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Greek-American Westport, CT Police Chief Fotios Koskinas Featured in CNN

September 27, 2022

WESTPORT, CT – Greek-American Westport, Connecticut Police Chief Fotios “Foti” Koskinas was featured in CNN for the reforms that have changed the way police encounter people dealing with mental health issues.

“A lot of people with special needs may not react very well to a police in uniform, but they may just react very well if a grandparent gets on the phone,” Police Chief Koskinas told CNN.

“Koskinas’ department has partnered with local organizations to set up a voluntary registry for family and friends of people with mental health challenges, such as schizophrenia, who may panic or seem violent when approached by police,” CNN reported, adding that “the registry allows relatives or friends to flag anyone who might benefit from additional support — and provide information about how to best de-escalate any situations with them.”

“As soon as police get a call, the computer will flag any person who is on the registry by name and address,” CNN reported, noting that “additional information about ways to communicate with a person at that address, including contact information for relatives, is available to a responding officer before reaching the person’s front door.”

“Koskinas’ officers also undergo critical incident training focusing on dealing with mental health and substance abuse issues,” CNN reported, adding that “they practice defusing volatile situations using alternatives other than force.”

Greek-American Westport, Connecticut Police Chief Fotios “Foti” Koskinas was featured in CNN for the reforms that have changed the way police encounter people dealing with mental health issues. (Photo: Facebook)

“We prepare for storms. We prepare for an active shooter. We prepare for traffic accidents. We prepare for a hazardous material incidents,” Koskinas told CNN, noting that “it’s equally important, he explained, to prepare for any kind of situation with a citizen with mental health issues.”

“Under Koskinas’ leadership, the Westport Police Department has instituted a number of programs to improve its relationship with the community and protect both citizens and officers from negative encounters,” CNN reported.

“We started our body camera program in 2014. We were one of the first in Connecticut, if not the first, to wear body cameras,” the chief told CNN. “Fast forward to 2020 when everybody’s saying body cameras provide accountability. We, as the Westport Police Department, were able to say: ‘Well that’s great. Not only do we support it, but we’ve been doing it for six years.'”

“Years before the 2020 fatal arrest of George Floyd and the police reforms that followed, Koskinas started implementing strict rules around chokeholds in his department,” CNN reported, adding that “he’s also put an emphasis on community policing.”

“When high school is in session, Westport police participate in ‘Dodge-A-Cop’ dodgeball games with local teens,” CNN reported, noting that “during the summer, the department switches to cornhole games in the park…[and] both programs put police officers right alongside local teens, getting to know them in a friendly environment.”

“It’s really good when the police officers see the kids and everybody knows each other by first name. It doesn’t have to always be ‘Officer,’” Koskinas told CNN. “We’ve had real lockdowns. These kids have had the comfort to go to the school resource officer … and say: ‘We have a relationship with the police, and I am concerned about this.'”

“Koskinas says his experience as an immigrant shapes the way he thinks and informs the way he runs his police department,” CNN reported, adding that “he first arrived in Westport at age 11, speaking no English [and] his Greek parents tried everything to get him to learn the language before they moved to the US — but he admits he ‘fought them every bit of the way.’”

“Though Koskinas is quick to acknowledge he had a much easier transition than many immigrants, not speaking any English gave him insight into what being an ‘outsider’ can feel like,” CNN reported.

Jennifer Tooker, Westport’s First Selectwoman told CNN that “he looks at things differently. When he thinks about solutions, he always thinks about everybody winning. And I think that’s amazing in a police chief and in a leader.”

“Ultimately, it’s Koskinas’ visibility and community outreach that may be his most important contribution to Westport,” CNN reported, noting that “even small children know about ‘Chief Foti.’”

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