Business leaders honored a 27-year Collier County Sheriff’s Office veteran Wednesday for his service to the community, particularly for his work in crisis intervention.
The Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce, in association with the Naples Daily News, honored Lt. George Welch with a Distinguished Public Service Award for Law Enforcement at a breakfast ceremony at the Hilton Naples, 5111 U.S. 41 N.
The annual awards are conferred for outstanding professionalism and public service rendered by those in law enforcement, fire safety, emergency medical services, and life and safety support.
Congressman Curt Clawson was keynote speaker and retired Naples Daily News Editorial Page Editor Jeff Lytle was emcee.
Lt. Welch was humbled by the recognition.
“I don’t do any of this alone,” he said. “I’ve had a strong team. We have a great network of people who are like-minded and work together to make life better for those with mental illness and their families. Their roles played a part in me getting this award.”
Lt. Welch serves as coordinator of the Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) and has trained more than 650 criminal justice professionals, including law enforcement officers, correctional officers and dispatchers, how to identify a person with mental illness and de-escalate situations when a person with mental illness comes into contact with law enforcement. Sheriff Kevin Rambosk has made it a priority for CCSO, and nearly every member of CCSO has been trained, including all command staff. Lt. Welch has been integral in overseeing this effort. He has been CIT coordinator since 2008 when CCSO began offering the training.
Under Lt. Welch, law enforcement professionals in Collier County have learned how to recognize symptoms, how to identify a crisis situation and about medications. The goal is to reduce violent crime and cut down on mentally ill patients behind bars. Not only is the training making the community safer, keeping mentally ill patients out of jail is saving taxpayers money.
Lt. Welch’s dedication to the mental health field expands to his posts as an active board member for David Lawrence Center and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Collier County. In 2013, the David Lawrence Center honored Lt. Welch for his contributions to support those in recovery as part of National Recovery Month. He was named Law Enforcement Officer of the Year by NAMI in 2007.
Lt. Welch is dual certified as a deputy and as a correctional officer. He began his career at CCSO in 1987 as an officer in the Corrections Division of the Collier County jail. Later, as a deputy sheriff, he moved to the Patrol Division, where his first assignment was in the sheriff’s Immokalee district. He also worked as an investigator in Crime Scene Investigations and Vice Narcotics Bureau. He did a stint in the Youth Relations Bureau, where he was promoted to corporal and then sergeant. From there he was assigned to the Patrol Division, where he was promoted to lieutenant in charge of the sheriff’s substation in North Naples. Later he served as administrative assistant to the Sheriff followed by a stint as emergency preparedness coordinator for the Domestic Security Division and then followed by his current assignment to the Prevention Services Bureau of the sheriff’s Community Outreach Division.
Lt. Welch has also dedicated himself to the U.S. military. He retired from the military in 2013 after serving a combined 24 years with the Army and Air Force.