GLEN ROCK – A local police officer traveled thousands of miles to Australia this week to offer advice to fellow police officers from around the world on how best to respond to mental health emergencies.
For Patrolman Matthew Stanislaw, the long journey could be a break from a truly difficult chapter in his life.
Stanislao, 43, with more than 20 years of experience, will lead a workshop and be a panelist at the World Conference of LGBTIQ+ Criminal Justice Professionals in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.
He said he was the only official from New Jersey attending the four-day event that ended Friday.
“I’m honored,” said Stanislaw, who is gay. “If the work we’re doing at Glen Rock is finding its way into an international platform, then we’re doing the right thing.”
Security:Man in hazmat suit visits Glen Rock florist, sprays substance in possible mischief
The conference organizers invited Stanislaw to attend after seeing a short video he made and uploaded to YouTube. It was shared among law enforcement circles online and eventually got to them.
In the four-minute video, originally created as a training tool for New Jersey’s crisis intervention team, Stanislaw and another officer discuss how to handle a fictional dilemma while having lunch at a pizzeria. The colleague confided in him that his son had apparently overdosed on drugs and attempted suicide after coming out.
“I went into clinical mode,” Stanislaw said, “and I tried to help him.”
North Jersey:Four things we learned from Bergen County’s plan to improve Route 17
Meanwhile, Stanislaw sensed his colleagues were considering retirement from the police force and his own mental health was declining.
The video at least shows that there should be no shame in asking for help. But on a deeper level, Stanislao said, it underscores a technique all officials should employ when talking to people in a crisis like this.
He calls it “motivational interviewing.” Instead of asking questions, officials should use suggestive statements, Stanislao said. “When you’re not sure how someone is doing,” he said, “it’s really helpful to get information that you might need to help them.”
The strategy will form the crux of the discussions that Stanislao will lead in a 40-minute workshop on Wednesday.
Bergen County:Demolition of Nabisco factory in Fair Lawn begins, but tower still stands
The video, which includes a cameo by gay rights icon Barney Frank, a native of Bayonne and former Democratic congressman from Massachusetts, will be screened for those attending the seminar.
Chief Dean Ackerman said he is proud that an officer of the borough will be able to showcase his mental health expertise on a global stage. “This is an area of law enforcement that we’re very focused on,” Ackerman said. “I don’t think people realize how many neighbors are struggling.”
Stanislaw is “helping us learn from each other,” he added.
But bringing the officer to his current state of achievement has been a tough road.
He was fired from the police force in October 2014, and soon after sued the department, claiming he had been unfairly fired because of his sexual orientation.
The discrimination case ended after 2.5 years with a $750,000 settlement and Stanislao’s reinstatement. He said he spent that time trying to “get my life back together”. Along the way, he earned a master’s degree in social work from Columbia University and acquired skills he now uses every day on the job.
Ironically, he acknowledged, a wrongful dismissal ended up leading him to this week’s meeting in Australia.
“I have the opportunity to go back to police work and help a profession that has turned its back on me,” Stanislaw said. “It’s not the path I want, but it seems more worthwhile than ever.”
Philip DeVencentis is a local reporter for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to the most important news in your local community, subscribe or activate your digital account today.