Police officers trained in responding to people in mental health crisis
MEDINA – This week 18 police officers in Orleans County learned strategies to help calm a crisis with people battling a mental health issue.
The state has started funding a Crisis Intervention Training Program for law enforcement officers to better understand the myriad of mental health issues, and to learn strategies to de-escalate a potentially volatile situation.
The Crisis Intervention Training Program is funded by the New State Office of Mental Health. State Sen. Robert Ortt is chairman of the Senate’s Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Committee. He said the training keeps police officers safer, giving them tools and strategies as first responders for people in mental health crisis.
A goal of the training is also for police to connect people in crisis with treatment, rather than jail, when appropriate.
“This helps them and it helps you,” Ortt told the officers today during a graduation program.
Ortt also attended a graduation last month when 28 police officers at Niagara Falls completed the week-long training. Ortt would like to see all police agencies be part of the training.
This week about half of the full-time police officers in Orleans County took part of the Crisis Intervention Training (CIT), with participation from the Orleans County Sheriff’s Office, Albion, Holley and Medina police departments, a state trooper, and the Park Police.
“I thank all of you for your compassion to the citizens of Orleans County when they are in emotional crisis,” said Dr. Don Kamin, a clinical psychologist and instructor in the program.
He shared many scenarios and strategies with officers to help them identify if a person if in a mental health crisis and how to lead them to accept help and not be combative.
Kamin and the instructors went over behavioral health issues such as trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder, suicide assessment and intervention, excited delirium, anxiety, emotional distress. Officers learned communication skills with a focus on de-escalating the crisis.
Bower, the county sheriff, also worked as a dispatcher for about 30 years. He said an increasing number of police calls in recent years have been for people in a mental health crisis. He said many mental health institutions have closed in recent years, putting more people who need services into the community.
The Orleans County police agencies will have another one-day training on Dec. 8 for additional officers to receive Crisis Intervention Training.
Albion Police Chief Roland Nenni said the trained officers can cross jurisdictional lines to help in crisis situations.
Mark O’Brien, director of the Mental Health Department in Orleans County, praised the officers for taking the training this week. For some of the officers, the 8 hours of training each day may have preceded or followed a full shift as a patrolman or investigator.
O’Brien said the county has stepped up its community-based mental health services, with satellite programs in all five school districts. There also are mental health services now available for inmates in the jail.
“This will help the community,” Bower said about the training and mental health outreach.