Police train to handle cases with those who are mentally ill

Danielle Toth

Portage County police officers are now able to sign up for new Crisis Intervention Team training, which will teach them how to handle situations involving those who are mentally ill.

Nationally, about 10 percent of calls to law enforcement officials involve someone who is mentally ill, said Michael Woody, a retired Akron police lieutenant who has been working to expand CIT training throughout Ohio.

Because of the large amount of calls, the new training will increase the number of hours of training from 1 to 2 hours to 16 hours, he said.

The training would not make officers full CIT officers, who must have 40 hours of training, but would give officers the proper training to deal with situations that arise involving those who are mentally ill.

The training will involve both law enforcement officials and mental health officials, said Dennis Missimi, special projects administrator for the Mental Health & Recovery Board, which is planning the training.

“It’s a collaborative effort between the law enforcement and mental health communities,” Missimi said. “It (the training) forms a liaison between the community and law enforcement.”

The training focuses on de-escalation – calming the individual down in a non-violent way, Woody said. Officers aim to calm down the individual enough to voluntarily transport him or her to a treatment facility, which in Kent’s case would be Coleman Professional Services on Rhodes Road, instead of jail.

“The training gives the officers another tool to deal with what could be a potentially dangerous situation,” Missimi said. “This training ensures that no one – the officer, an innocent person or the person themselves gets hurt. We want the officer to be able to walk onto the site of conflict and pull this training out of their memory bank.”

The training requires officers to ride along with case workers to visit their clients and mental health facilities, and will soon require mental health workers to ride along on calls with officers so each side can see what the other deals with, Missimi said. The final day of training is role-playing with representatives from Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine.

“The training is based on a national curriculum that we use as a base and then tune and tweak to make Portage County-specific,” Missimi said. “We make sure the training fits with the needs of the community.”

Portage County’s CIT training program is made possible through a $5,000 grant the county received in October from the National Association of Counties, said Kerry Macomber, executive assistant to the Portage County Board of Commissioners. Portage County was one of five counties across the United States to receive the grant.

“We submitted an application to the Jail Diversion Small Grants Program, and we were successful,” Macomber said. “We’ve been working for about a year with the courts and mental health providers. Everyone has been working hard.

“CIT training will enable our officers to better understand the complexities of mental health issues and better serve Portage County, those who suffer from mental illness and their families.”

In addition to the new training, beginning this month all incoming police officers nationwide will be required to take the new 16-hour training course to become an officer, Woody said.

Only the first 25 officers who sign up at the Mental Health Recovery Board will be selected for the training in April.

Contact public affairs reporter Danielle Toth at [email protected]