Partners for protection: Advocates, police work together to support survivors

Mount Pleasant Police Chief Paul Lauria poses for a photo inside his office April 24, 2023. Lauria was an advocate in the formation of a pilot program that partners police with R.I.S.E. Advocacy to provide crisis-informed response to situations of domestic abuse and sexual assault, among others.

Krysta Carabelli is the social crisis advocate for the city Division of Public Safety. 

Krysta Carabelli’s experience counseling survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence has taught her that police culture and mental health care sometimes do not mix.  

“Police culture and mental health culture don’t always get along,” Carabelli said. “They just usually clash.” 

Carabelli works with R.I.S.E. Advocacy, a nonprofit that provides support services to survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. R.I.S.E and the Mount Pleasant Police Department decided to do something about their culture clash – they partnered up. The two have been collaborating since 2021.    

“I was highly impressed by the officers, the amount of training they had, the amount of understanding they had for victims and for people who are experiencing mental health crises,” Carabelli said. “The desire that they had to get people help – it didn’t feel like I was walking into a space where they’re like, ‘Oh we can’t help them, they’re just going to keep doing what they’re doing. Who cares, they go to jail.’ These officers were like, ‘I don’t know what to do. I need help. We want you to come and help us.’” 

Why did the partnership start?

R.I.S.E. started collaborating with MPPD in 2021 to start the Domestic Assault Response Team (DART). Under DART, R.I.S.E. crisis advocates would help respond to domestic violence cases to provide psychological care. 

Carabelli said the program resulted in fewer repeat offenders, and survivors were connected to resources, like housing, counseling and support groups, faster. After seeing the benefits of DART, MPPD wanted to maintain its momentum.

“The police noticed this is working and they came back and were like, ‘Can we make this more? Can we do more?’” Carabelli said. 

She said MPPD Chief Paul Lauria, in particular, saw the importance of the program.

“Lauria really wanted this,” Carabelli said. “He fully believes in the impact of mental health in the community. He was like, ‘Why aren’t we doing this more? I don’t understand why we avoided this, why have we said this is a bad thing?’ In his desire to … continue to improve the department, he went to the city council and spoke to them quite a bit about it.”

Carabelli said DART was also in response to a need for intervention or follow-up after assistance from police.

“Essentially what would happen is a domestic violence incident would occur, the police would be called and the police will show up,” Carabelli said. “Either the perpetrator is arrested or detained in some manner – essentially the threat is no longer there, but the (survivor) wants someone to talk to.”

DART’s success led to the creation of Carabelli’s position. She was offered the job and started in March 2022. Carabelli started with nine clients and now has about 50 per month. 

“The program is growing rapidly, so I’m really hoping to get some help soon, because it’s not fun to be the only person on call for all that,” she said.

Now, through the partnership, the police communicate with R.I.S.E. to send an advocate for the survivor to get help and make a plan for their next steps. 

When working on cases, responding officers will call R.I.S.E. if they think a survivor needs mental health care. After the scene is safe and the police officers get what they need, R.I.S.E. is “good to go” to help counsel the survivor.

“They would stay there,” Lauria said. “They would talk to them about services, the court process, what's going to happen, give them support numbers, their own number. And it was making the whole thing complete.”

Carabelli described the on-scene crisis intervention process. 

“(We would let) them tell us about what’s been going on in their life, help them safety plan – what do we do if this person is in jail today, but bails out tomorrow?” she said. “How do you start to take control of your life in terms of finance? Where am I going to live? If the perpetrator has everything in their name, what do I have left? What do I do?”

Lauria recounted one of his and Carabelli's first domestic violence cases at a hospital.

“We had a domestic where this woman's face looked like Rocky Balboa’s face, her eyes were swollen,” Lauria said. “She was just beat (and) didn't want to talk to any officers or didn't want to give any information. And Krysta went in there in the hospital room, and … you could hear (the woman) yelling and all this, and then the voice tapered off. An hour and a half, two hours later, she came out (and said), ‘Yeah, the husband did it. This is where he is at, she wants to prosecute.’ It couldn’t have been written any better.”

Lauria said he quickly realized how much of a need there was for this program while working on domestic assault cases. R.I.S.E. would show up fast, not interfere or criticize. They offered suggestions to police officers on how to talk to victims – even with body language like folding their arms or resting a hand on their gun.

Reflecting back on his first conversation with R.I.S.E., Lauria said he believes R.I.S.E. wanted to help because the COVID-19 pandemic was such an “unknown, panicky time.” 

"(Carabelli’s position) is a different skill set. You got to be able to do it all."
- Mount Pleasant Police Chief Paul Lauria 

Growing a partnership

Lauria said former Lieutenant Don Sytsema originally connected with R.I.S.E. about joining forces. Sytsema said the police department needed help responding to domestic assaults. Apprehensive at first, Lauria eventually agreed.

“Initially, you might as well have asked us if we could issue (R.I.S.E.) guns and carry guns, because I remember thinking to myself, ‘What's their angle? What were they hoping for?’ And it was just to help people,” Lauria said.

Additionally, there was a worry about whether or not R.I.S.E. would be reliable to respond quickly when needed on the scene of a case. Lauria gave the example of calling other area agencies to assist in cases. 

“The problem I have ... is you call them and they might get there four hours later,” he said. “And that is not conducive to a positive outcome.”

Nevertheless, MPPD gave it a try with R.I.S.E and with the city commission fully in support of this collaboration. 

There are other times when survivors do not want Carabelli to come to the scene, but want her to call instead. After leaving a scene or making contact with a person, she will ask if it is okay for her to call back later to check on them.

If the client says yes, they become part of Carabelli’s caseload, she said. People remain her clients for a variety of time periods, ranging from a week to months.

R.I.S.E. works primarily with MPPD, but any police department in the area can ask for crisis intervention, Carabelli said. 

Police officers are typically not trained to follow up with victims about their mental health or to offer resources, Lauria said.

“Krysta does, and she's got the skills, the temperament and she knows the resources that are available locally for people to seek help, and so that follow-up becomes huge,” he said. “I'm not saying that it's been perfect. I am saying that there's been some successes.”

Evolving roles

Eventually, Lauria asked R.I.S.E. if they would assist with sexual assault cases in addition to domestic assault. 

“When you’re at the hospital and you’re waiting, do you think the victim wants to sit there and stare at a police officer? Or a male? I don’t think so,” he said. 

Having Carabelli on call for both domestic and sexual assault cases filled a gap within MPPD.

“Think of it this way, if I would have had her at my side, or her available to call when I was (a young officer), I'd have her on speed dial,” Lauria said. “What an asset, because all she's here to do is to help people, and in the process, make us look great. When the officer gets frustrated, or the officer seems non-empathetic, she comes in and takes over.”

MPPD wanted Carabelli to have a full-time position with the city to assist in cases in 2020, once she began to take sexual assault cases.

“All the City Commission was in support of it,” Lauria said. “They were very instrumental. And ... they could have been a lot more difficult, but ... they were with me every step of the way and I can’t imagine the position not being here (in MPPD).” 

Once Carabelli was hired into the position in March 2022, her work extended to training police officers and working on domestic violence and sexual assault cases. She also helps with mental illness, substance abuse, homicides, trauma, suicide, attempted suicide and teen issues. 

There have been grief cases she was called for, since the officers were unable to get the individual to talk about what they were feeling in the midst of a breakdown.

“That happens in a lot of grief cases,” Carabelli said. “That person may be experiencing intense grief and they’re in shock and the officers don’t know how to help them be able to talk. I might actually physically go to that scene and get down on the floor with that person and just help them breathe and help them get back into their own bodies and have that moment of clarity so they can make some choices for themselves.”

While she primarily works with MPPD, about once a month she said she is called to cases with other agencies, such as the county sheriff, state police, Central Michigan University Police Department or the Saginaw Chippewa Police Department.

When multiple cases come in a short period of time, Carabelli will assess each situation based on urgency. For example, she said, someone who is actively suicidal would likely be contacted earlier than someone whose child is running away from home.

"I might actually physically go to that scene and get down on the floor with that person and just help them breathe and help them get back into their own bodies and have that moment of clarity so they can make some choices for themselves.”
- Krysta Carabelli, Mount Pleasant Division of Public Safety social crisis advocate

Confidence and confidentiality

A part of Carabelli’s job is being someone to confide in and advocate on behalf of the police. She also helps R.I.S.E. by bridging the gap between both offices. However, there is an emphasis on confidentiality: She is unable to tell MPPD certain things about a client and vice versa, when it comes to R.I.S.E.

She said she finds this to be one of the “biggest, weirdest” parts of the job. 

“When it comes to the confidentiality portion, I am under the confidentiality of R.I.S.E. when I’m working with R.I.S.E. clients. ... I’m not going to tell the police a dang thing about anything I’m doing at R.I.S.E. with any of my clients, unless that client explicitly says it’s okay to do so,” Carabelli said. 

When the police bring a case to her, Carabelli said the officers will be aware she is helping the client, but she will not report what the client is saying back to the officers.

“There will be lots and lots of cases that come through R.I.S.E.’s door that the police department will never know about,” she said. 

There are also times when MPPD receives cases that R.I.S.E. is unaware of, and sometimes cases that it has known about for a long time.

Initially, Lauria found the confidentiality to be frustrating. He said he remembers when R.I.S.E. came into MPPD to present the program. R.I.S.E. advocates told him they could not reveal information about clients at the women’s shelter. 

“And I'm thinking to myself ... ‘What do you mean, you can't tell me – do you want our help or not?” Lauria said. “And if you want our help, you're gonna tell me everything I want to know. … The fact is that yeah, I get that they can’t, I understand it. I don't like it, but it isn't because she's on a power trip and is trying to make things difficult.”

Carabelli’s position has been embraced by MPPD; however, since she is assisting in numerous types of cases there is also a worry of burnout, both Lauria and Carabelli said.

Lauria said he hopes to add a second position to help Carabelli avoid burnout. 

Carabelli said she would love for every agency, including City Hall, to have a position similar to hers. 

“(Then) each agency would have their own specific person who understands why they do what they do in their agency,” she said. “Managing a city for a police department looks different than managing a county or managing a jail or managing campus life.”

Lauria said he could not agree more. 

“(Carabelli’s position) is a different skill set,” he said. “You got to be able to do it all. And (police) want to be able to do everything well, but that (isn't) the reality." 

Related content:   
Sexual assault and domestic abuse: What these issues mean for our community
How R.I.S.E. supports survivors of domestic abuse, sexual assault  
Local resources for support and protection  
Seven things to reconsider about DV and sexual assault
Editorial: You are not alone  
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