It has almost become a common practice for St. Clair police officers to be trained in crisis management as almost all officers have gone through the course.
Police Chief Bill Hammack said nearly every officer is CIT certified including himself.
“It’s almost become basic training for us. When this first started a few years ago, each department had a few officers, maybe a handful, were CIT trained,” Hammack said.
“Virtually now, I think most departments, almost all the officers are CIT trained.”
CIT officers receive specialized training on the skills needed to respond to individuals with mental health issues, including identifying people who are going through a mental health crisis and effective communication skills to de-escalate the situation.
The course of instruction includes those from law enforcement and a diverse group of others, such as the division on aging, hospital officials and representatives from the Harmony House and organizations that serve those with mental health issues.
Panels of people with mental health illnesses share their experiences with law enforcement and trainees have the opportunity to ask questions that will help them if a similar situation occurs.
The CIT course is 40 hours for law enforcement. Communications and noncommissioned staff will undergo a 16-hour program.
“Our primary function is to enforce laws, but because of the society today, our job requirements have expanded traumatically in the past 20 years,” Hammack said.
“The more education we can have, the more it benefits the department and the community.”
Hammack said the training is beneficial for officers when handling cases where individuals are suicidal and homicidal. He said the department receives calls of those who are suicidal on a weekly basis.
“Very often, those individuals are reaching out for help and they voluntarily receive that help either by EMS or by family to a facility to receive whatever assistance they need,” Hammack said.
“Occasionally, we run into situations where family members call us and the person is resistant to any help, but yet they are suicidal or homicidal.
“Those CIT officers can sign an affidavit and transport them for a 72-hour observation at a mental facility,” Hammack said.
Additionally, Hammack said homeless individuals usually struggle with some sort of a mental illness and with the homeless population increasing, CIT has been helpful to officers.
“Our homeless population in this area and, I think in Franklin County in general, is increasing and this training gives us an understanding on how to deal with those individuals,” Hammack said.
If family members are having a difficult time with their loved ones who have a mental illness, but they are not posing any threat to themselves or others, officers will recommend for the family members to get a court order for an evaluation, according to Hammack.
“Very often (officers will) run into families that are dealing with someone who’s either bipolar or schizophrenic and they’re not taking their medication and there’s a lot of struggles in the home.
“And if it doesn’t meet that criteria, we tell them contact a judge and get a court order,” Hammack said.
“Once there’s a court order for an evaluation, wherever that person resides, law enforcement will assist in the transportation of that person.”
CIT is a collaboration and community partnership between law enforcement, mental health service professionals, families with life experience and consumer advocates.
Started in Franklin County in 2011, the group serves the community’s needs, works on strategies for meeting those needs and organizes police training to help officers understand how to identify a mental health crisis. There are approximately 207 CIT-trained officers throughout the county, including 55 deputies in the sheriff’s department.