NEWTON, NJ—National Police Week is celebrated every May. This year the Newton's Chief of Police, Michael Richards, looked to commend “officer performance that illustrates the challenging work that they encounter each day and highlights work that often goes above and beyond.” 

During the Newton Town Council meeting on May 22, Richards began the presentation referencing a recent national survey on Mental Health and Crisis De-escalation training. He cited the part of the report that stated that, “Law Enforcement interactions with people who may have a mental illness or are in crisis are an issue of tremendous concern for the public and government leaders.  For good reason.  At the extremes, these encounters hold the potential for successfully linking people in crisis to desperately needed appropriate care, or they can end in tragedy.”

On January 3, Sgt. Steven Benson and Ptl. Michael Wolanski responded to a residence on Swartswood Road in Newton for a 9-1-1 call whereas a male stated “I need help” and then hung up. 

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According to the report read by Richards, upon arrival, the officers encountered a subject that was standing in the middle of the room repeatedly throwing a ball in the air and catching it with another hand behind his back.  When he took his hand from behind his back, it was revealed that he was holding a large bowie knife and he held up to his head as if he was going to cut himself.  Officers spoke to him and convinced him to drop the weapon.

That was not the end of the incident, however, according to the police report. The subject reached behind his back again, this time producing a handgun. The officers, who were now at gunpoint, began ordering him to drop the weapon, but instead, he switched it to his other hand and raised it to the side of his head.

Officers Wolanski and Benson continued to speak with the subject and after several minutes, convinced him to drop the weapon. He was taken into custody after a brief struggle of resistance, the officers and was taken to Newton Medical Center for evaluation and treatment. He was not criminally charged.

Both Sgt, Benson and Ptl. Wolanski were awarded with the Department;s Honorable Service award for “Highly Creditable Accomplishment or Act bringing public acclaim to him or herself, the department, or the police profession as a result of their training, devotion to duty or service to the public.”