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Tri-State law enforcement agencies battle mental health crises with crisis intervention teams

Cincinnati police mental health crisis team
Posted at 12:03 AM, Jul 02, 2022

CINCINNATI — Local law enforcement agencies are always looking for new tools to add to their toolbelt for fighting crime. But mental health advocates say mental health crises require a different type of tool: compassion and de-escalation.

Amanda Shaw is a program director for Mental Health America of Northern Kentucky and Southwest Ohio. She said the crisis intervention team, or CIT, is a community response to help those who are struggling with local illness.

"Our law enforcement partners in Hamilton County are very well equipped to recognize when someone is in need of emergency crisis mental health help," she said. "And are able to decrease their use of force in order to respond to the person in the best way possible."

CIT training is 40 hours over the course of one week. Shaw said the week is separated into 25 presenters with different areas of expertise. Some of those areas include mental health basics, community resources, trauma, domestic violence, substance use and dementia.

The need for CIT training is growing. A 2021 American Psychological Association study found 20% of police calls are for mental health crises. Shaw said the number could be much higher.

"But when I speak to police officers and ask them how they feel about it, they say 75-80% are calls for people in crises in general," Shaw said.

CIT is now in every Ohio county and is a requirement for some agencies, including the Cincinnati Police Department.

“To graduate from the academy you have to come through this 40-hour training. They even have their 911 dispatchers come through the training. Everyone is getting consistent information and training on how to help people in crisis," Shaw said.

The training was caught in real-time as a WCPO 9 News photojournalist captured CPD’s handling of a man dealing with a mental health episode.

It happened Friday morning in Northside near Spring Grove Avenue. Police could be heard shouting orders for the man to get off the street, and to get on the ground. The man refused. Police then fired several styrofoam rounds. Officers said they fired because the man had a gun.

He was later taken into custody. Police say the man will receive a psychological evaluation and has been charged with inducing panic, not following commands, and walking in the middle of the street.

Shaw said the goal of the training is for police to learn how to de-escalate a tense situation, and to get someone the help they need.

"Definitely seen a culture change where police are more receptive and open to responding to people in a way that is compassionate, kind, trauma-informed," she said. "Diverting people from the criminal justice system, where they weren’t committing a crime. They were just needing some mental health treatment."

Melissa Abell, a corporal with the Springdale Police Department, was awarded on Wednesday the Hamilton County CIT 'Officer of the Year.'

She said the training is an invaluable tool for law enforcement.

"I feel like every department and officer should have a crisis intervention training, be certified in crisis intervention," said Abell. "It’s essential to what we’re doing nowadays. A large percentage of our calls are mental health-related. We need to do a better job of talking with people within our community. Handling our calls that could be very dangerous. Able to use de-escalation skills and tools to talk them down."

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