Cop of the Week

by Paul Bass | October 19, 2005 2:44 PM |

Lt. Stephanie Redding, who coaxed a disturbed, violent man out of a house during a stand-off on Stevens Street, knows how to speak to hostage-takers and barricaded men. It’s kind of like talking to the teen-aged girls on her cheerleading squad.

Redding, who’s 43, has been a New Haven cop for 20 years. (She’s also married to one.) She heads the department’s Family Services Division; that means she works with troubled kids, rape victims, among others. Redding is also one of the department’s trained crisis negotiators. Her level-headed performance on Stevens Street earlier this month will “definitely” earn her a commendation, according to police Chief Francisco Ortiz. Thanks to Redding, the SWAT team (technically known as “SERT,” or Special Emergency Response Team) didn’t need to storm the Stevens Street building to remove the disturbed man barricaded on the second floor. “She calmed everyone down,” Ortiz says. “She had this guy out in no time.”

Redding and Sgt. Lisa Dadio were picking up sandwiches a little after noon on Monday, Oct., 3, when the call came over the police radio for a crisis negotiator. Redding was operating on just a few hours of sleep. The night before she worked 11 hours overseeing a crew looking for robbery suspects in the Hill neighborhood. An officer under her command shot someone; Redding didn’t get home and to bed until around 5:30 a.m. She had to get back into the office by 9 a.m.

Two other crisis negotiators, Ray Hassett and Joe Avery, weren’t on duty that Monday afternoon. So Redding drove to the scene, back to the Hill. On the way a supervisor filled her in: a man with a gun had bought tires at a store on Sylvan Avenue. He didn’t want to pay. He threatened to shoot the clerk. Then he fled in a Ford Taurus. He parked outside 55 Stevens St., ran inside. He was acting wild. Families rushed out of the house into the street for safety. He burst into a second-floor apartment and tussled with a man before he and his family, including a young child, made it out.

The SERT team, with whom Redding trains, was positioned outside. The man was refusing to leave the house. He had left a gun in the car; no one knew if he had another one. It was believed the man was on drugs, but no one knew for sure. It didn’t appear that he was holding hostages. He did have a phone.

When Redding arrived, cops had Stevens Street closed to traffic. A crowd had gathered. Redding was directed around the block, where the man’s girlfriend was talking to him on a cell phone. “He was very erratic. He wasn’t making sense.”

The sandwiches stayed in the car.

“I immediately cut off any conversation with her and her boyfriend,” Redding recalls in an interview at police headquarters, where she takes pain to portray her work as part of a group that trains together and works closely together. She learned in training that it’s dangerous to have family members involved in negotiations with hostage-takers or barricaded men. “Emotional issues can heighten the state of mind of the person. We want to calm them down.”

The cops set up a post on the street. Redding called the man from his girlfriend’s cell. A second cop, Detective Robert Lanza, collected information on the phone and wrote it down for Redding as she negotiated by phone with the man inside. Lanza also kept in touch with the SERT team. A third cop ran background checks and interviewed people to learn more about the man.

Redding’s first job was to establish a rapport, and to stay calm. “We want this to end safely,” she began. “We want you to be safe.” She discussed her goals with the man: No one gets hurt, not you, not a neighbor, not the police.

“You need to calm his fears,” Redding says. “I don’t know if he’s rational. I don’t know if he’s on drugs.”

Immediately the man started telling Redding about “some personal problems he was having.” That was a good sign. It meant he was open to talking. He didn’t mention what had happened at the store around the corner with the tires. Instead, he focused on problems in his life.

“I told him I needed him to come out and we could help him.” He kept asking for reassurance that he would be all right. She told him he would.

It’s hard to stay focused in those situations, Redding observes. “There are a lot of people there. You’re negotiating from the street.” She has learned to tune out the street. “I try not to get tense, because it would show through my voice. I really focus on the conversation.” She and the other crisis negotiators play-act the conversations in training with the SERT team.

The man finally agreed to come out. Redding asked what door he was coming out of. He was on the second floor. She took him step by step. She told him first to go down a floor. Then she told him which door to exit from. At each step, Lanza relayed the man’s movements to the SERT team.

“He’s Out”

Finally, Redding told him to come outside with his hands up. “He’s out,” a SERT team member told Lanza, who informed Redding.

At that point, when a barricaded man leaves a building, “he’s not mine anymore,” Redding says. But she wasn’t relieved yet. “I’m not relieved until it’s over. That’s a pretty tense time when a person comes out. He can go back in. He can harm himself.”

The man stayed out. The SERT team rushed him. No one got hurt.

Redding’s work wasn’t over. As is her custom, she went up to him and introduced herself. Why? “Back when we were on the phone, he trusted me.” Plus, she wondered what he looked like. She figured he wondered the same thing about her.

The man was in a squad car.

“Do you want me to tell your mom or your girlfriend anything?” Redding asked.

“Let them know I’m OK.” She agreed.

Days later, in the interview, Redding declines to describe the man’s personal problems. She feels bound to protect his privacy. She always does in these cases. The relationship she has with the people on the other end of negotiations is brief, conducted over phone lines, not face to face. Yet it involves an intense bond, an instant building of trust. “He’s a human being,” she says. “Unfortunately, he was having a bad day.”

Redding was having a long day.

“You do realize,” Sgt. Dadio said as they drove back to the police station, “it’s only Monday.”

Three Cheers, & Then Some

Given her background, you might think Redding, who grew up in West Haven, always wanted to go into public safety. Her dad’s the fire chief in West Haven. Her brother’s a firefighter. Her cousin was a cop.

But she never was interested in being a cop. She loved cheerleading; she was on the squads at West Haven High and Eastern Connecticut State University. She applied to the force when she was working an office job at Saab-Scania and looking to return to college. Today she finds time to coach the cheerleading squad at Sacred Heart Academy.

“You need to have good communications skills to negotiate with teen-aged girls,” she says. Yes, she does see parallels to coaching barricaded men out of buildings. “We tell them the way we want them to do things. They need direction. They need supervision. They need it to be very clear, very concise, so there’s no room for manipulation.”

Click here to read about the previous Cop of the Week.

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