News Story: Lake County officers graduate program with acute skills in mental health, substance abuse intervention
May 19 2023
Police officer Cynthia Torres regularly encounters people with mental health issues when she’s dispatched on a call. After managing the situation, she often wonders days later how the person is navigating life.
Which is why she was among officers from eight Northwest Indiana law enforcement agencies participating in a five-day crisis intervention training (CIT) in Hobart that was organized in part by Geminus.
“I feel like I’m gaining insight into each mental illness,” said Torres, who has been a Griffith patrol officer since January of 2022, “and how many there are, how to recognize them, how to deal with them individually, and how to deal with the person who is suffering with these illnesses; to do it correctly, in a humane way to get them the specialized care and support they need.”
Over the five-day training in May at the Northwest Indiana Law Enforcement Academy, Torres and 13 other participants learned about psychotic disorders and mood disorders, anxiety and PTSD, autism, dementia, and personality disorders, among other mental conditions. The officers also heard from people managing their mental illness and learned about cultural awareness and mental illness. They role-played active listening and de-escalation techniques and visited Regional Health Systems’ New Beginnings Clubhouse—a member-based community of adults living with mental illness.
In all, specialists in CIT training, mental health professionals, a judge, local experts in areas such as veterans and homelessness, suicide prevention and trauma-informed care, presented more than two dozen sessions.
“This is a really nice resource to open and expand on ways to get people the actual help, or at least offer them the resources that they and their families need,” Torres said. “I think it helps people understand that the police really are here for you.”
Other departments attending included Gary, Hammond, Munster, Highland, Porter County and two railroad law enforcement agencies.
Now a national program, CIT training was first developed in 1988. It brings together law enforcement, mental health and addiction professionals, individuals with mental illness and/or addiction disorders, their families, and related groups to improve responses to mental health crises.
The CIT Indiana training emerged from conversations begun in late 2021, when law enforcement agencies in the region expressed an increased need for training in mental health awareness, said Eric Evans, director of prevention services at Geminus. Research indicates that nationwide the number of calls for police service involving a mental health crisis or substance use crisis are increasing, as is the amount of time law enforcement agencies are spending on mental illness calls.
“Mental illness should not be criminalized, and that’s one of the things that can happen if that interaction goes bad,” Evans said. “For someone who is experiencing crisis or is mentally ill, we don’t want them put into the judicial system. We want them to get into health services and get the care they need.”
The goal of the five-day training, he added, was to help officers be better equipped “to handle these situations in a manner that is going to keep everyone safe,” and direct individuals with mental illness to treatment.
“It’s about finding that balance between law enforcement, those who have lived experiences and the mental health providers,” Evans said. “Those groups are very directly connected and need to work together.”
CIT training is effective, according to studies published in the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law. Among other benefits, the research showed that the training likely leads to diverting individuals to psychiatric facilities and away from jails.
Other research shows that the program leads to a decline in officer injuries and repeat calls for police. CIT also enhances the relationships between mental health providers and members of the community.
Hammond Police Sgt. Jason Quick, who has worked in law enforcement for 23 years, said he viewed the training as a bridge between law enforcement and the community by assisting individuals to find social services. Most helpful to his colleagues, Quick said, was the program’s QPR strategy—question, persuade and refer—which would help officers de-escalate and prevent an interaction from becoming a serious issue.
“Hopefully, the training continues,” he said, “and it becomes kind of the norm to send patrol officers here to get this training because it’s essential.”
May 19 2023
Feb 01 2023