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Setting a personal goal of excellence seems to be working for Cary Police Officer Shawn T. Smith: He was recognized as one of two Crisis Intervention Team Officers of the Year for Wake County.
A goal of personal excellence has guided Smith in his career; from his early years, his father told him to follow his passion. Smith was recruited into FEMA after college, then served the Homeland Security office. After working in federal positions, he was drawn to the community level. He went back to school to gain an MBA, then joined the Cary Police Department.
Smith has served with Cary’s department for 4-1/2 years; he has been a Crisis Intervention Team officer for more than a year. CIT officers take a 40-hour specialized training class through Wake Tech to learn to identify possible mental health crises and de-escalate crisis situations.
Q: Why did you choose Cary’s police department?
I’ve always wanted to better myself and better others; Cary is big on exemplary services. The mission statement says, “service is our only product.”
Q: Why did you decide to take the CIT training, and did you learn anything that you were unaware of before?
An officer in my area left, and I wanted to fill the gap.
No, I was already aware of many issues, but the growth part for me was making the transition from a ticket-writing police officer to trying to find out the root problem for that individual.
When I am dealing with someone who has a mental illness or deficiency, I think, “How can I help this person?” not “I need to send this person to jail.” I think through what is in his or her best interest; that’s the heartbeat of what makes this program work.
Q: How does the program work, and what situations have you dealt with?
Believe it or not, we have a lot of family members who call the police department and say, “I need a CIT officer to respond. I know there are officers who are trained for this situation.” A consumer (someone who uses mental health services) might even call and say, “I’m having a bad day; I need help.”
One time a girl took a shotgun that she was trained to use and said she wanted to kill herself. I was able to find her and talk her down, then take her to the crisis assessment center. That’s one situation people seem to remember that affected my nomination.
My goal is to treat her and others with dignity; they are still people.
Q: Is there anything in your own life that helps you relate to the people you encounter in your work?
I can relate; I grew up in two different children’s homes from ages 11 to 18. There is no one person in my family who I think about, but I have wide exposure to many different types of people. I had to grow up fast at a young age.
Q: How did you react when you heard that you were one of two CIT Officers of the Year for Wake County? (The other was from Knightdale.)
My first response was, “what?” Complete shock. In my mind, I’m just a guy who does what I do. My personal goal is excellence.
Q: And you’ve used your personal goal in a variety of ways people wouldn’t expect, right?
Yes, I did professional comedy for five years at Comedy Worx in Raleigh. I performed Saturday and Sunday nights, took MBA classes at night on Wednesdays and worked Monday through Friday.
I was also vice president of a children’s charity for five years (Smiles for Little Faces). I got to experience a lot of things most people don’t get to experience, like riding in a semi-truck with three F-16 engines; it went 376 miles per hour and is the world record holder. It was part of a charity video.
Q: And you recently achieved something else you’re proud of?
I joined Toastmasters and entered the 2012 International Speech Contest. I placed in the top 20 in North Carolina.
I’ve learned some ways to improve, and I’ll do it again next year. My goal was to win the world title. I’ll keep trying. One day, I hope to give keynote speeches.