BARTHOLOMEW COUNTY, Ind. – Members of several police agencies in Bartholomew County are undergoing a week of specialized training aimed at better dealing with situations that involve persons who are in the midst of a mental health crisis.
Members of Columbus Police, Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department, Hope Police officers and members of the new Columbus Regional Health Police Department have started a full week of Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) that is designed to help law enforcement officials deal with a variety of situations.
“Putting someone in jail is not always the answer, so it is a line that we have to look at,” said Columbus Police Department Spokesperson Lt. Matt Harris. “We want to take the appropriate action. Utilize deescalation when possible, and be able to get these persons that are needing assistance the proper help that they need.”
CIT is becoming more popular among police agencies across the nation, especially as experts say the Coronavirus pandemic has taken a toll on the mental health of the nation. The National Alliance on Mental Illness says up to 15% of police calls involve someone struggling with mental illness, and 1 in 4 people shot and killed by police from 2015 to 2020 had a mental health condition.
Training sessions this week will focus on recognizing the signs that a person is having a mental health crisis and de-escalating volatile situations.
“Our officers have a really good idea on how to carry themselves and words to say, words not to say,” Harris said. “But the training I’ve seen so far, we’ve been very impressed.”
In nearby Johnson County, several police agencies began sending officers to Crisis Intervention Training about year ago.
“It really hones in on deescalating the situation,” said Greenwood Police Chief Jim Ison. “Because it can be a very dangerous situation for both law enforcement and those experiencing the crisis at the time.”
Aside from new skills, Ison said officers came away from the training with quick-reference resource cards that department members now carry on duty.
“They have everything from employment help, food pantries, housing resources, mental health and addiction counseling,” Ison said. “If the person has a smartphone, they can just scan the QR code and all the information is immediately downloaded to their phones.”
Harris said training sessions this week will include simulated scenarios for officers to practice what they learn. Topics will also address when a person should have a weapon taken away under Red Flag laws.
“Any additional training they can receive, whether it be identifying persons who might be schizophrenic or bipolar or dealing with a substance abuse issue, I think is very important,” Harris said.