Cop of the Week

by Melissa Bailey | January 18, 2007 12:55 PM | | Comments (1)

IMG_6863.JPGHow do you talk down a psychotic man off his meds, pacing in the house with a Rottweiler? It’s kind of like acting in Body Double or Superman: The Movie. That is, if you’re Lt. Ray Hassett.

One recent evening, on Chapel Street in the West River neighborhood, a woman and her husband called 911. Her son had locked them out of the home. He was off his medication, in a state of confusion, pacing back and forth before the window. His company: A bed-ridden woman on dialysis and a Rottweiler friendly only to him.

That’s the info Hassett got when he rolled up to the home. Team leader of the FBI-trained Crisis Negotiation Unit, he gets called in for hostage situations, suicides “” anytime someone’s closed in a structure and needs to come out.

“I knew the guy, because we had been there six months before,” said Hassett, speaking in his Edgewood Avenue substation this week. Hassett’s at-first severe appearance “”shaved head, small Mohawk, serious visage “” softens as he tells the story, with a calm voice, using his hands for emphasis.

The man up in the house, in his mid-20s, had a history of being combative with police, possessed edge weapons (such as knives and blades), and served in the army. Going in could prove dangerous. “We’re not going to go into a house blind like that. The dog is a big issue. What we want to do is get him to come out.”

As officers cordoned off the street and set up a perimeter around the house, others called his clinician and pulled background info on the man. Hassett tried different ways of contacting the man. After more than an hour and a half, through a grandmother’s cell phone, he got through.

Here’s where negotiation skills are put to a test.

“You have to establish a sense of trust “” that I can help you. I’m going to help you, and get you out of your confusion.” Sometimes, you take slow steps. “You listen, and you say, ‘What’s going on?’ It’s simple stuff.”

Omar’s Scriptwriter

To talk down a person in a crisis, Hassett pulls on his professional training “” not just as a problem-solving cop, but as a professional actor. Hassett, a Connecticut native, came to the New Haven police force 20 years ago from an unusual background: Hollywood.

Long before he took charge of the Dwight/Kensington district, he played roles in Body Double, Star Wars, and Superman: The Movie. He worked eight years in London, performing in the world premiere of Sam Shephard’s Curse of the Starving Class. He was one of the screenwriters for Green Ice, a movie about an emerald heist starring Omar Sharif “” Click here for his acting bio. Over the course of his career, he found himself cast half a dozen times as a law enforcement official. He got “sick of L.A. politics,” and flew back east to join the police force.

“Acting and policing are very similar in that in acting and policing, you have to be a master communicator. Acting on stage is just a lot less dangerous than working in the street.”

Those skills come in handy in his everyday work as a community problem-solver, and on the end of the phone with a person in panic.

“Going back to my acting days, I know that voice means a lot.” With a different tone, timber, volume, attitude, you can make a person feel a certain way. “No different with someone who’s hypersensitive in a crisis situation.”

“Actors are fluid people, we’re chameleons in a way.” Each time you sit down with a new partner and a new script, “we’re going to have to establish a rapport. I have to find a spot in me so we can communicate through a character. Life is no different. You grow this thing inside of you that allows you to communicate.”

“Hi, This is Ray”

Out on Chapel Street that day in late November, Hassett did so with swift success. He gained the man’s trust first: “Hi, this is Ray from the police department.” They talked for a bit. Then he told him to put down the phone and secure the rottweiler.

“You hope that the initial contact has been magnetic enough that he will put the dog away and come back to the phone.” It was. In a short time, the man came out of the house without incident. He got into an ambulance, voluntarily. They haven’t had any problems with him since.

In his day-to-day work, Hassett’s known in the Dwight/Kensington area for spreading the Light the Night program, problem-solving with block watches and as a steady presence at the Dwight Central Management Team meetings. Acting remains part of him, but “I love policing here, it’s close to New York, it’s got a cultural center, and a hard edge.”

He’s still contemplating a third career “to pull all this together. But in the next one, I’ll play myself.”

(To read other installments in the Independent’s “Cop of the Week” series, click here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

(To suggest an officer to be featured, click here.)

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Posted by: Edward_H | January 20, 2007 8:57 AM

Congratulations. This is long overdue. Lt. Hassett is known throughout New Haven as one of the best cops around. Although I don't live in his district I have spoken to him many times at various community functions and found him to be intelligent, tough and honest. This is a man who takes his job seriously and it shows through the improvements in his district. Keep up the great work Ray!

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