CAUTION program unites police, community

GLADSTONE — Due to the success of a partnership between Michigan State Police (MSP) and clergy in five downstate communities, a program is expanding to all posts statewide to increase trust and communication between residents and law enforcement.

Beginning next month, the Gladstone Post will offer training for clergy interested in volunteering to participate in the Community Action United Team in Our Neighborhood, or CAUTION program.

The CAUTION program is meant to avoid conflict between residents and troopers when divisive issues may arise, explained Gladstone MSP Post Chaplain Rev. Stephen Cowen, a retired pastor from Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Iron Mountain, now living in Gladstone.

“Overall, the program was set up in order for the CAUTION Team to be a liaison between the Michigan State Police and residents to assist in community-wide issues to sort of ‘calm the waters,'” said Cowen.

Trained clergy serve as a “buffer” between troopers and residents by having dialogue with those who are concerned about a community issue or event, he said.

“CAUTION is primarily to assist people with the emotional trauma of an event,” Cowen said, adding, “What we’re trying to do is keep an issue from becoming an ‘us and them’ event.”

The MSP created CAUTION at the Flint Post in 2012 in response to racial-related issues causing tension between some residents and law enforcement. The program later expanded to include faith leaders in Benton Harbor, Inkster, Muskegon Heights and Saginaw with 103 volunteers now participating in the program.

Though no community-wide issues against police have occurred in the local region, that doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen here, said Cowen. However, he noted much support has been shown for law enforcement with the “We Back our Blue” posters campaign and other events recognizing police.

Part of the CAUTION training includes Critical Incident Stress Management, or CISM, to help people process an experience and express their feelings following a major event, explained Cowen, citing a mass shooting as an example.

Another way clergy will help troopers and the community to connect positively will be through public engagement events such as informational meetings addressing local concerns like drug abuse or other criminal behavior in a community.

Gladstone Trooper Dale Hongisto, the local community service trooper for CAUTION, said faith leaders trained in the program may also be present at crime scenes to ease tensions and provide emotional support to residents. Clergy may also be requested to provide support at accident scenes, fires or other emergencies.

“If we feel like the team would be needed, I would contact the post chaplain and a call would go out to them,” said Hongisto.

CAUTION members will also meet regularly with post personnel to encourage dialog and information sharing, he added.

Hongisto, Cowen, and Post Commander First Lt. Greg Cunningham are currently organizing the local initiative. Area clergy are being contacted to volunteer for the program, which will be in place by mid-March.

A two-hour training period is set for noon on March 1 at the Delta County Road Commission building at 3000 32nd Ave. S. Courses include critical incident defusing, security in places of worship, responding with law enforcement in a crisis, and avoiding caregiver burnout. An annual statewide CAUTION conference also takes place in the fall.

Clergy members interested in participating in the local CAUTION program can contact Hongisto at (906) 428-4412 or Cowen at (906) 250-5802.

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Jenny Lancour, (906) 786-2021, ext. 143, jlancour@dailypress.net


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