Sheriff’s department becomes stage for theater students

Shauna Carter

Dramatic interpretation meets law enforcement

Kent State theater students assisted law enforcers by demonstrating emergency situations during a Crisis Intervention Team training session at the Portage County Sheriff’s Department on Friday.

The session included police officers, corrections officers, juvenile corrections officers, sheriffs and other law enforcers from the county. The training is designed to put law enforcers in scenarios in which communication is the main technique of solving a situation.

Rubin Ryan, a Kent State theater graduate, performs a traumatized war veteran for the CIT sessions and has been involved with the program since it started in 2005.

“I think it is a great program,” Ryan said. “The whole idea of the CIT program is to train police officers to resolve problems so that the amount of people who get tasered or treated in an unjustified way is minimized. This (CIT training) is about how to deal with people who have mental illnesses or other issues that would make it seem less fair to Taser them.”

The CIT Training started in 1988 by the Memphis Police Department.

Joel Mowrey, associate director of the Mental Health Recovery Board of Portage County, said the training program is both a national and international program.

“The purpose is to also help a person get away from their issue,” Mowrey said, “and possibly get them placed in a mental health facility or hospital, rather than a police station.”

Ryan said he started working with the CIT program while a patient at the Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine for appendicitis. His initial act was a paranoid schizophrenic and the training session was for doctors, rather than law enforcement.

Hannah Storch, a senior theater major and first time CIT training actor, said she was really nervous and excited to act out her suicidal scenario.

“I made up a story to have something to say and fall back on,” Storch said, “It went pretty well. I made sure to cover every aspect of the scenario; like a boyfriend, family and school.”

During Storch’s acting, she began to cry hysterically.

“I was trying to tear up the entire morning,” Storch said, “And then sitting back there with the (prop) knife and my hood up and just sitting there, I started thinking and focusing and as soon as (the officers) started with the dispatch, I just started crying.”

Storch said the officers dealt with her scenario, which was a young woman threatening to kill herself with a knife, in a composed manner, in which she felt would have been helped in a real life scenario.

“Everyone was really calm,” Storch said, “They didn’t show they were affected by my fake cutting, which was probably a good thing. I was looking for them to react and to kind of feed off of that, but they didn’t respond to what I was doing.”

“A lot of the program has to do with safety not only within the community, but for law enforcement as well,” Mowrey said. “In the past, police officers have been prone to using Tasers, handcuffs or even guns, so the situation would escalate. This program allows de-escalating a situation with communication.

Jeff Futo, a Kent State police officer, said the theater department has been involved with the CIT program since the third CIT class in 2007. Jeff collaborates with the theater department in getting actors and improvisational actors for the training sessions.

“This particular training session was interesting,” Futo said. “This was the first year we had a turn-over. The actors today were just winging it and they were able to get up and do it.

Some of the actors have been there since the beginning, so I didn’t have to tell them what to do.”

Mowrey said the CIT training is a volunteer program done once a year. For police officers, it is a two-day session. CIT training sessions are also held for police dispatchers and educators.

Sarah Coon, a junior theater major, said she was nervous because it was her first time participating in the CIT training session. She was also the first scenario to perform, playing a suicidal student getting ready to jump off of a bridge.

“This was a brand new experience and it was kind of nerve-wracking, especially because I was the first to go, so I never got to see anyone else,” Coon said. “I spent the week kind of preparing a story in my mind just so that I knew why I was up (on the bridge) and if they asked me questions about it, I would be able to answer.”

Mike Galusick, a senior theater and psychology major, said he could relate well to his paranoid schizophrenic character because of his psychology major.

“My major in theater is improvisation, so this was right up my alley,” Galusick said. “I prepared a little. I already know a lot about paranoid schizophrenia, so that helped. I decided what kind of afflictions my character was seeing and what type of religious background he has and how exactly he perceived things.

“The fact that they felt so compassionate towards my character made feel good,” Galusick said, “that when they go out in the real world, they won’t cause any negative reparations.”

Background Information:

Dick Reiss said this was his sixth year as a CIT actor. Reiss was a Kent State graduate student in acting.

“I was a graduate at the University of Tennessee in 1979 with a degree in theater,” Reiss said. “I spent 30 years as an actor before going to graduate school at Kent State in 2006. I would like to teach on the college level.”

Reiss said the actors’ part of the CIT session is to challenge the officer.

“I really enjoy working with the officers,” Reiss said. “Giving them a chance to deal with bad situations in which they have to talk people down calmly. We try to throw them as many curves as we can to see how they will deal with it because the more experience they have dealing with the unknown the better chances they have at solving them. A lot of these scenarios they give up were based on actual encounters.”

Contact Shauna Carter at [email protected].