Crisis Team Intervention training aids officers

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DOVER, Del. (AP) — Every day, somewhere, law enforcement officers interact with people experiencing mental health problems.

This month in Dover, first responders received 40 hours of training in Crisis Team Intervention to better relate.

The hope among health care professionals and police is that the training can ratchet down meetings between officers and people in need before violence occurs.

The Delaware Department of Health and Social Services conducted the training at Wilmington University's Dover campus. It was supported by law enforcement, National Alliance on Mental Health Delaware, the Mental Health Association in Delaware, and many other partners.

"A great focus is on de-mystifying mental illness and making officers aware of the differences that come with them, which will allow better communication, tactics and safety for all," said Delaware State Police Lt. Charles Sawchenko, who served as an instructor through the weeklong event.

Dr. Josh Thomas, a former police officer, served as CIT project manager for the program that follows a landmark model established by the Memphis Police Department in the late 1980s.

Thomas can relate to the 38 officers who signed up for the class, and said the program could help lower use of force that keeps police, the individuals involved and the public safer. Resolving a crisis before it turns more serious also lessens the burden on the already over-burdened criminal justice system, he said.

Police aren't social workers or mental health professionals, Thomas said, but proper training can at least lend options on how to better respond to mental health issues.

"There are a lot of demands and a quick pace to police work," Thomas said. "We know the pressure is to often hurry up and resolve the situation, but in the long run it's best to slow down and assess the situation, and find a way to de-escalate what's going on."

Officers received information on mental illness and psychotropic medications, along with risk assessment tools, verbal training, basic negotiation and active listening skills, and interactive learning through experiencing auditory hallucinations, among other parts of the program.

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Information from: Delaware State News, http://www.newszap.com

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