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Posted: Feb 23, 2009  16:00

North Idaho Cops Trained for Crisis Intervention


Thirty North Idaho law enforcement and emergency medical personnel are better equipped to handle mental health crisis calls after successfully completing a forty-hour Crisis Intervention Training. The weeklong voluntary training program, hosted by the Bonner County Sheriff's Office, was held at the VFW hall in Sandpoint, and also included multiple presentations in Coeur d'Alene.

Law enforcement at all levels and experience from the five northern counties interacted with the judicial system, mental health professionals, hospital staff, family members and consumers of mental health services. The goal of the program is to increase the safety of officers and the public, de-escalate difficult situations and reduce repeat call-outs by connecting the mentally ill with appropriate community mental health services.

The first two days of the program introduced officers to clinical disorders, medications, local and state hospital facilities and staff.

"I wondered, what does this have to do with us, but after a few days I could see the benefit of knowing what to look for when approaching a situation," said Terry Ford, Idaho State Police officer who has worked for 23 years in Bonner County. "This is the first training on mental illness."

Chrystal Beachy, a social worker with a private agency explained, "CIT develops interaction between the police and resources, trains officers to take extra steps for safety, encourages follow-up that diminishes re-occurrences. CIT also attempts to develop relationships between law enforcement and consumers, based on trust rather than fear."

Family members were there to share the effects of living with mental illness from the perspective of an adult child, a spouse and a parent.

"I had misconceptions and now have a better understanding of the diseases of the brain, mental illness and the burdens the families bear," said Pastor Steve Nickodemus, Supervisor of Chaplains, who was a family presenter and a training participant. "The training was good and I gained respect for the officers who deal with so many types of situations."

"This training is another tool in the tool box," said Gene Marquez from Wallace, an ISP officer of 27 years. He added he particularly benefited from learning court procedures from Judge Mitchell.

Mental health consumer Les Newman was happy to have the opportunity to talk to the police officers.

"With this training, police will be more aware, understanding and might be less likely to misinterpret mental illness for some other disruption," he said.

"CIT training is invaluable training for officers to build empathy and understanding that these are people that have a physical problem they cannot control," added Holly Bonwell, Clinical Supervisor with Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.

Training included intervention strategies and procedures. Finally, the officers participated in scenario training where they were called into a mock crisis situation based on actual cases. The actors included facilitator trainers, social workers and family members. The goal was for the officers recognize symptoms of various disorders, use the tools of the training to safely de-escalate a situation and follow-up by connecting people with the appropriate resources. Actors from the mental health sector commented it was valuable to step into other people's shoes and they had a better understanding of police officers' roles as partners in difficult situations.

The CIT training is brought to the five northern counties through the efforts of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Far North Chapter, a grant from the State of Idaho and the cooperation of numerous agencies and law enforcement. CIT programs were developed in Memphis 25 ago. This was the first offering for the voluntary training in Region I and only the second in the state of Idaho. Gary Tolleson, Police Training Specialist of Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST), the licensing agency for training, viewed CIT as important and said it should continue, and develop from this first program. CIT is certified by POST.

"There used to be a cuff and stuff philosophy," said Allen Hamilton, a Boundary County EMT. "CIT training may help diffuse some situations, lessening the need for emergency medical services. My own responses will change because I have a better understanding that the person with mental illness has a different perception of reality."

Ron Bruno, board member of CIT International and guest instructor concluded: "On behalf of CIT International, we are excited and would like to congratulate Idaho Region I for successfully conducting its first CIT Academy."


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