CHAT WITH THE CHIEF: National Night Out August 3, Praise for Outstanding Police Work for Pantilici
CANNON: Obviously, National Night Out is a big event that y’all have held annually for many years. I know this past year was a gap year because, with COVID, y’all weren’t able to have it... What are you looking forward to, or what’s different about this year when it comes to bringing back National Night Out?
HENSON: The community continuously asked us about National Night Out and if we were going to do it again, which kind of let us know how important this event is to people. We really didn’t know how much our local residents enjoyed this event so it was good to see that interest and hear - ‘hey, are you guys going to put it on again?’ Because we didn’t get to do it last year, this year we added some different attractions like kid darts, but the main thing that we added was the DJ entertainment, and he’s got a very good following. It’s going to cause us to spread out in the park a little bit more, so the musical entertainment will be at the old pavilion, where we would normally have our food, which will move the food booths to the new pavilion where the children’s playground is. Within that, we’ve added several new things because we try to change it up every couple of years to make sure to add something different that the kids haven’t seen before.
CANNON: Longtime locals have likely attended National Night Out in the past, but for newcomers or people that are not familiar with it, can you explain the purpose of NNO or the message you hope to put out with this free evening of fun?
HENSON: The idea behind NNO is to bring your community together with your police force. So for us, it’s a message that we continue to use every day and that is: we are ONE with our community. It’s an opportunity for the community to come out and meet their officers, see them face to face, interact, get to know them... For bigger cities, that’s an issue obviously, because they don’t necessarily know the officer who is working their neighborhoods, whereas here, everybody knows who we are. But the idea behind this was to make sure we come together and, you know me, I know you, and it’s just a fun event for all. There’s no tension, we’re not serving warrants that night or any of that stuff. A lot of bigger cities, instead of doing just one night out like ours, have neighborhood events. So different subdivisions will have block parties to have all the neighbors come out, they all do their cooking and have bounce houses, and the police make their way through there. But fortunately, our town is small enough that we can do one concentrated event and have everybody there.
CANNON: You mentioned changing the layout and size of the event this year. What other changes can people expect?
HENSON: Since we’ve added those couple elements and we changed the footprint, we’re not going to allow any parking within the city park. We’re gonna shuttle people from the Softball Complex instead. We don’t get many complaints if any, but one that I did get the year before last was that the parking was too crowded, and it was hard to get in and out. Because we’re spreading out this year and we’re going to have attractions on the baseball field which means kids will be crossing the street, I didn’t want the risk of a child getting hit by a car, so we’re going to require everyone (except those with handicap placards) to park at the complex. Then, they can walk over or ride one of the shuttles we’re going to have out there. That’s a big change that we made, which will take some of the pressure off of the constant vigilance of making sure the cars that come through don’t hit anyone because there won’t be any moving traffic like there was in the past. We provide this event free to everyone - that’s food and all, so I kind of have an idea of the number we’re working with. We upped the food count this year to account for other area communities because we don’t want any family or any kids showing up, and we have to tell them ‘there’s no food left’. I would rather send hot dogs home with people than have someone go home empty.
CANNON: Switching gears to a more sensitive topic: I know at the council meeting, you mentioned a difficult mental health situation that Officer Pantilici dealt with a few nights ago. Can you tell me a little bit about that situation?
HENSON: Pantilici had a call a little after 2 a.m. on July 20 of a possible suicidal person here in town, he went to the given address and he encountered that person - who didn’t want anything to do with him. They quickly left and Pantalici pursues them as on foot pursuit, but not as you would normally think/do, he stayed with them, trying to talk to them, trying to talk them down and just explain to them, ‘I’m just here to check on you, make sure you’re okay, anything that we can help with.’ The person was highly agitated, they were very angry and they just weren’t listening. So they left from the 300 blocks of South Ellis, and the person makes their way over to the railroad tracks. This entire time, Pantalici is trying to talk them back, get them to stop for just a minute and engage in this conversation and see what it is we can do to help them if anything.
The person made their way over to the elevated railroad tracks and got up onto the railing, and they were perched up there while Pantalici was on the highway, trying to talk up to them. The person’s family was there, they had a friend that was there with them. There was this extreme tension because not only did the subject indicate they wanted to hurt themselves, but they were self-inflicted injured, and very, very, very angry and not a champion of law enforcement. So you add all those things together, and it’s a very, very tense scene. Pantilici was able to call for backup, and LCSO Deputy Evans and Deputy Mayfield arrived to help him. They called me a little after 2 a.m. and when I say I watched Pantalici talk them down, I’m referring to the suspect’s emotional level as well as physically where they were (on the tracks).... can we come down? Because their children were also there and they were witnessing all of this and it’s a really fine line to walk as an LEO. So between Officer Pantalici, Deputy Evans, and Deputy Mayfield, they were bringing the tension level down, and then the involved person elected to come down off the tracks. They were able to get them to come down to the highway and then took them for treatment and a mental evaluation process.
CANNON: Mental health situations can be very tricky and should be dealt with delicately. As far as Pantalici’s handling of the mental health emergency, what did you see that you were proud of? Do Groesbeck Police Officers undergo any kind of mental health training to prepare for situations like this?
HENSON: When I went back and looked at Pantalici’s body camera, you can actually hear the concern in his voice. He is extremely bothered by the fact that this is going on and that it’s up to him to bring it to a peaceful resolution. That’s a lot, whether you’re a police officer, teacher, it doesn’t matter, that’s a lot to put on someone. So here you are at 2:30 a.m., as the rest of Groesbeck sleeps, trying to convince this person not to harm themselves any further than they already had. Just listening to Pantalici on the scene, going back and reviewing his body camera, you could tell he was really, really emotionally involved with that. Again, it’s a city of 4,500 people, and we typically know who we’re dealing with, I mean, we know them. So that adds another layer to it; you’re not just talking down some guy that rolled into town, you’re talking to somebody you just dealt with last week. I was extremely proud of him. There was no forcing the scene, no heavy-handed approach, there was no, ‘I’m a police officer and you’re gonna do what I say,’ there’s none of that. This is an officer who is well trained and who utilized the de-escalation training he just went through within the past month. The officers are required by law to go through de-escalation training, but I’ve been doing this 25 years and before that was a requirement, you weren’t taught; no one pulled you aside and said ‘this is how you bring tempers down,’ or ‘this is how to de-escalate a situation. Now, it’s mandatory training, and when Officer Pantalici and I talked about it, he said it was the weirdest thing because it played out just like they said it would in training, almost textbook how these scenarios would go. Of course, you can never predict the ending, but as far as trying to teach them, these are the kind of things that happen, this is how you need to apply these skills and he did it and it worked. I don’t want to use the word fantastic but I was really really proud of the fact that he stepped up there and did that.