GLEN ROCK – A local police officer is thousands of miles away in Australia this week to give advice to other police officers from around the world on how to better respond to mental health emergencies.
And for patrolman Matthew Stanislao, the long trip can feel like a release from a really difficult chapter in his life.
Stanislao, 43, an officer for more than 20 years, will lead a workshop and serve as a panelist at the LGBTIQ+ World Conference for Criminal Justice Professionals in Melbourne, the capital of the Australian state of Victoria.
He said he is the only officer from New Jersey at the four-day event, which ends Friday.
“I feel privileged,” said Stanislao, who is gay. “If this work we’re doing at Glen Rock is finding its way onto an international platform, we’re doing something right.”
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The conference organizers invited Stanislao to attend after seeing one Short film that he produced and uploaded to YouTube. It was distributed among law enforcement circles on the Internet, eventually making its way to them.
In the four-minute clip, originally created as a training tool for the New Jersey Crisis Intervention Team, Stanislao and another officer discuss how to handle an imaginary dilemma over lunch at a pizzeria. The colleague confides in him that his son overdid it in an apparent suicide attempt after coming out as non-binary.
“I go into clinical mode,” Stanislao said, “and try to help him.”
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At the same time, Stanislao senses that his colleague is considering retirement from the police force and is suffering from a decline in his mental health.
The video shows, at least, that there’s no shame in asking for help. But on a deeper level, Stanislao said, it highlights a technique all officers should use when talking to people in such crises.
He calls it “motivational interviewing.” Instead of asking questions, Stanislao said, officers should speak using inflammatory statements. “When you’re not sure how someone is doing,” he said, “it can really help to get the information you might need to help them.”
The strategy will form the core of the discussion that Stanislao will lead during the 40-minute seminar on Wednesday.
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The video, which includes a performance by gay rights icon Barney Frank, a Bayonne native and former Democratic congressman from Massachusetts, will be shown to those attending the workshop.
Chief Dean Ackermann said he is proud that an officer from the borough will get to showcase his mental health expertise on a global stage. “It’s an area of law enforcement that we’ve been paying a lot of attention to,” Ackermann said. “I don’t think people realize how many of their neighbors are struggling.”
Stanislao, he added, “is helping us learn from each other.”
But it was a scary road that brought the officer to his current state of fulfillment.
He was fired from the police force in October 2014, and soon after, he sued the department, claiming he was unfairly terminated because of his sexuality.
The discrimination case ended 2 1/2 years later with a $750,000 settlement and Stanislao’s reinstatement. He said he spent that time trying to “rebuild my life”. In doing so, he earned a master’s degree in social work from Columbia University and gained skills he now uses at work every day.
It’s ironic, he admitted, how a wrong conclusion ultimately led him to this week’s conference in Australia.
“I had the opportunity to return to police work and help the profession that turned its back on me,” Stanislao said. “It’s not a path I thought of, but it seems more worthwhile than ever.”
Philip DeVencentis is a local reporter for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to the most important news from your local community, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
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