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Newtown Officers Honored With Meritorious Service Award



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Newtown Police officers Sergeant Scott Ruszcyk, and Lieutenant Richard Robinson, and retired Lieutenant William Keegan of the New York Port Authority (NYPA) Police, received the Police Commissioners Association of Connecticut Meritorious Service Award. The three were nominated by Newtown Police Chief James Viadero.

“This award singles out officers who show extraordinary competence, skill, and compassion,” said Viadero. “It’s a testament to the work our department has done in the mental health area.”

After the Sandy Hook tragedy of 2012 the aforementioned officers were inspired, with the assistance of Keegan, who was a member and founder of HEART 9/11, — or Healing Emergency Aid Response Team, a peer-to-peer support network — to take some constructive steps to mitigate the effects of stress and other factors that impact law enforcement officers mental health and well-being.

Viadero said that Keegan was a first responder to the Twin Towers terrorist attack and “witnessed first hand unthinkable trauma and carnage.” Upon retiring from the NYPA, Keegan founded HEART 9/11 with a number of first responders to the 9/11 attack.

The main focus of the organization is to mentor agencies and officers who underwent and witnessed such tragedies such as 9/11. HEART 9/11 rendered its services to the Newtown Police Department after the Sandy Hook tragedy and “were instrumental in the recovery and long term health of the officers of this agency,” said Viadero.

“As a result, officers partnered with Lt Keegan and HEART 9/11 to formulate a training program that would focus on the mental health of officers and combat the cumulative stress that impacts law enforcement officers on a daily basis,” Viadero said.

Ruszcik and Robinson sought the assistance of Harvard University, in particular Dr Benson Henry, who had devised a program for health care professionals working in trauma centers. This program, called SMART (Stress Management and Resiliency Training) is prominent throughout the health care profession and has been successful in combating the same stressors that impact law enforcement officers.

Viadero said that over the course of several years, the officers attended countless meetings in Boston, working with Harvard University, Henry and his Institute, on retooling the program for law enforcement. A beta test was conducted on various officers in the Fairfield County Region in 2018 and the program was solidified shortly thereafter. The formal name of the program is entitled Stress Management and Resiliency Training: Enhanced Tactical Performance.

Since its inception the training has been provided at the Bridgeport Police Academy, New Haven Police Academy, and to hundreds of officers at various in-service venues. The program is currently being taught to instructors in a train-the-trainer format in hopes of increasing the ability to train more officers.

The training has been extremely well received and focuses on reducing stress in officers, de-escalation techniques, mental and physical health practices, and lastly intervention techniques, said Viadero. Although numerous entities have tried replicating this type of training in the past, this is the first such program that garnered the recognition and backing of a renowned institution and university, predicated on sound research.

Two months ago a webinar was conducted sponsored by 9/11 Memorial Museum in New York.

Viadero said that the program was introduced and the response was “overwhelming.” Currently other agencies such as the New Jersey State Police, Oklahoma City Police Department, and the Fraternal Order of Police are interested in sponsoring the training for their agencies.

When organizers joined together to form HEART 9/11, a peer-to-peer support network for the hundreds of surviving responders to the 9/11 attacks, Keegan had no idea how far his team might go to help counsel shocked, troubled, and traumatized colleagues in police, EMS, and fire services.

Since the nonprofit organization sprang from the ashes of the twin towers, Keegan and a group of medical and financial professionals have nurtured HEART 9/11 into a growing network of responders and others.

Their primary mission is to help communities and the emergency workers serving them recover from some of the worst tragedies and disasters, from Oklahoma towns devastated by tornados and Hurricane Katrina-ravaged Louisiana and Mississippi, to Port Au Prince, Haiti, and to the relatively quieter headquarters of the Newtown Volunteer Ambulance Corps and Newtown Police Department.

To learn more about HEART 9/11, visit HEART911.org.

Reporter Jim Taylor can be reached at Jim@thebee.com.

Newtown Police Chief James Viadero stands with Newtown Police officers Sergeant Scott Ruszcyk, and Lieutenant Richard Robinson, and retired Lieutenant William Keegan of the New York Port Authority (NYPA) Police, after they were honored with the Police Commissioners Association of Connecticut Meritorious Service Award.
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1 comment
  1. sully101 says:

    Congratulations to the policemen who were honored. Our Newtown police officers are awesome and truly care about the citizens they serve.

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