Sometimes the biggest tool law enforcement has to calm an unstable situation is a pin 1 inch in diameter.
When officers respond to a call, they don’t know if an angry person is just upset, on drugs, or struggling with a mental issue.
But crisis intervention team training helps officers learn the skills and techniques to not only recognize when someone they encounter might have a mental problem, but also how to calm that person down and find a peaceful solution. At the end of the 40-hour course, taught by medical and law enforcement officials, graduates receive a gold pin indicating they are members of the Crisis Response Team.
Officers wear these pins on their chest, just above their name tags, so people can see them and know that these officers can and will help them.
“A lot of people in the system know about this pin and it can reduce the level of confrontation,” said Mary Stacy, therapist and CIT instructor at Lifecore Health Group, a Tupelo-based company whose stated goal is to provide health care. health for people with behavioral health issues, developmental disabilities and chemical dependencies.
The company also provides CIT training to law enforcement agencies in Northeast Mississippi.
Lt. Jason Putt, deputy sheriff for the Lee County Sheriff’s Department and CIT coordinator for Tupelo Region III Chemical and Substance Abuse Services, said most mental health agencies have posters showing Magnified images of the brooch and explaining its meaning. He said he received calls and saw people heading towards him or another officer wearing a CIT pin.
The concept of crisis intervention training was created more than a generation ago in Memphis. Since then, what is known as the “Memphis model” – a system in which law enforcement has teams of officers trained to defuse potentially dangerous situations involving people with mental or behavioral illnesses or substance abuse, and then possibly escorting them to institutions for further evaluation — has slowly spread across the country.
About five years ago, the concept began to gain traction in Mississippi.
The Lee County Sheriff’s Office and the Tupelo Police Department had officers participate in the standard CIT training course. Later, several of these agents followed additional training to become certified trainers themselves, allowing them to share their skills within their departments.
The coronavirus pandemic put training on hold for a few years, but things have recently picked up again. The course is limited to just 14 officers at a time, and there have already been two courses this year. Another course is scheduled for July.
Although officers briefly cover mental health and how to deal with people with mental health issues during the standard 12-week police academy, the week-long CIT course goes deeper with the information and techniques that they already know.
In addition to teaching officers how to recognize the signs and symptoms of someone with a behavioral disorder or substance abuse problem, CIT instruction addresses interacting with “consumers” both vocally and through body language.
This last element – how an officer presents himself physically – is more important than most people probably realize.
Lee County Deputy Sheriff Bryan Pounders said people react on a subconscious level to the way an officer stands or holds hands. It’s not just about asking officers to refrain from putting their hands on their guns when talking to the person.
“If my hands are behind my back, they wonder what I’m doing there,” Pounders said. “If my arms are crossed, I’m closed and I’m not listening. But if my hands are open, that means I am open and will listen to them.
During CIT training, instructors use role-playing games to act out scenarios. They try to make the situations as realistic as possible by having the actors shout and/or antagonize the officers as they work, or by having multiple people try to talk to the officer simultaneously.
At the end of each scenario, there is a debriefing.
“We’re evaluating their performance,” Stacy said. “How was the tone of their voice?” Were they assertive but not aggressive? »
She said officers need to have the right temperament for this type of work. Pounders agreed, noting that the officer needs to change the way he talks to someone because “when emotions are strong, logic is weak.”
“You’re not going to pull them out of an emotional crisis,” Pounders said. “If they’re stressed, they’ll dwell on a problem, and they can go from just worrying to having a panic attack.”
CIT training also shows officers that there are options for resolving a conflict beyond simply arresting someone and putting them in jail.
Putt said a CIT officer’s goal when approaching a “consumer” — their word for someone in a crisis — is to resolve the situation peacefully and by bringing the person l help she needs.
“Our goal is to defuse,” Putt said. “If he is high on the scale of the crisis, if we can defuse it, we have succeeded.”
He noted that often, if officers can defuse the situation at the scene, the person can leave and return home. After all, they are not criminals.
“We teach officers how to deal with mental issues,” Putt said. “It’s a disease, no different from someone with heart disease or diabetes.”
If the person cannot return home, there are other options than prison.
The most obvious is the Crisis Stabilization Unit in Tupelo. It opened as a four-bed facility in fall 2018 and has since doubled in size. By this summer, officials hope to complete an extension to 16 beds.
There are also CSUs in Corinth, Batesville and West Point.
The units are designed for short stays – to allow anyone being transported to rest, recuperate and, if necessary, resume taking necessary medications.
Lee County Sheriff Jim Johnson likes the options the CIT and Stabilization Unit give his deputies.
“It gives us a path. We don’t have to look for a criminal angle,” Johnson said. “We don’t have to wait for them to commit a crime. This gives us the opportunity to take them into custody and ask them for help.
And changes in the laws open up more possibilities. Not so long ago, even if a person who had committed a crime was assessed with a mental health issue, they were considered a criminal and sent to prison without access to mental health care.
This is no longer the case.
“Now we have a way to assess the situation and determine that it was the mental health issues that led to the crime and still help them,” Johnson said.
Although CIT training is still largely limited to large police and sheriff departments, Stacy would like smaller departments to take advantage of it.
Most law enforcement officials will agree that the majority of crimes they see are drug-related. But often the drugs mask underlying mental health issues. Training officers to better respond to a wide range of situations will only help improve their safety and that of the people they serve and protect.
As small as it is, that’s the power of the spit.
“Even people who do drugs, most of the time it’s mental,” Stacy said. “They take drugs because they’re not doing well. With rising prices and the uncertainty of the times, depression and anxiety go hand in hand. The mental health issues are there.