TAKE 5: Training teaches law enforcement how to handle mental health crises

Jul. 19, 2014 @ 05:02 AM

This week, we Take 5 with Pamela Munger, the community development specialist for the Sandhills Center, about Crisis Intervention Team Training (CIT) for law enforcement. The Sandhills Center is a Local Management Entity-Managed Care Organization (LME-MCO). As a LME-MCO, Sandhills Center manages local, state and federal funds and maintains a network of providers of behavioral health services in nine counties including Lee County. The center works in partnership with various law enforcement and community agencies in Lee County to support community education initiatives, including Crisis Intervention Team Training for law enforcement. CIT helps develop effective communication methods with law enforcement during a time of crisis involving persons with mental illness to foster safer outcomes.

Why is it important for the public to know how to communicate effectively with law enforcement in a time of crisis?

In crisis situations, emotions are high and confusion can set in. However, when you need to get help for a loved one, a neighbor or a community member, you need to be able to effectively communicate with 911 and law enforcement.

Recently, there have been numerous stories in the news in which law enforcement has been called in to handle a crisis situation involving persons with mental illness where the outcome, unfortunately, ended in tragedy. It is a real possibility if deputies and officers on the scene had been trained to handle persons in crisis, and if family members involved knew how to communicate important details starting with the 911 call, that these situations could have had a better outcome.

What is being done in Lee County to have better outcomes?

The crisis intervention team training for law enforcement that is sweeping the country kicks off the third annual training beginning Monday in Lee County. Officers and deputies from all three law enforcement agencies — Broadway Police Department, Lee County Sheriff's Office and the Sanford Police Department — will come together in an effort to build safer communities while learning new skills to help persons suffering from mental illness when in crisis. CIT teaches law enforcement how to deescalate situations and decrease use of force during crisis situations.

Lee County CIT planning committee includes Sandhills Center, Central Carolina Community College, Central Carolina Hospital, local law enforcement, Lee/Harnett Family Support/NAMI, Advance Behavioral Center, Inc., Monarch Behavioral Services, LeeCAN (Lee Community Action Network), and NAMI Cumberland, Harnett and Lee counties.

How has CIT benefited local law enforcement?

CIT benefits the entire community because outcomes are safer for both officers and consumers. Being CIT trained provides a new skill set for the officers to handle various situations. Capt. Tony Hancox of the Sanford Police Department, who also serves on the Lee County CIT Planning Committee, said, “The more information and understanding officers have going into a situation, the better they can prepare and change attitudes accordingly. And if someone is suffering from a mental illness, being CIT trained gives us the ability to better help that person.”

How can law enforcement and the public work together?

Safety first is a core principle of CIT training, and to support these efforts, families, neighbors and community members can help by being informed on how to effectively communicate with 911 dispatchers and law enforcement. Capt. Hancox believes that communication is the first step in working together. Having family members remain calm and able to give precise information, helps to prepare the officers. If officers know in advance someone has a mental illness, it prepares them for the situation.

Capt. Hancox has told us, “If the community as a whole [were] more aware of CIT, it would generate better communication, and communication is the key to safer outcomes.”

What should the public keep in mind when calling 911 to help someone who suffers from mental illness is experiencing a crisis?

Here are important tips to ensure a safer outcome for you and your family during a crisis.

Be specific, clear and calm; let 911 know what is happening and what you are asking for. Provide facts, including known weapons involved, medications, drugs or alcohol use. Provide known triggers that may upset the individual further and any known calming strategies that have worked in the past. Ask for a CIT-trained officer when calling 911. It is important to repeat this information to the officers once they arrive in order for them to handle the incident with the best outcome in mind — helping your loved one. Remember: Remain calm. Be specific. Follow the officer's instructions.