Crisis Intervention Training gives police an extra tool in the toolbox

Updated: May. 24, 2021 at 6:32 PM CDT
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GULFPORT, Miss. (WLOX) - Tension between the public and police all over the country is at the breaking point, but there’s a training program that trains officers how to identify mental health issues and to de-escalate situations before they can become deadly.

Officers and administrators say the training works. After 40 hours of learning how to identify mental health disorders in the field, it’s about to get real.

A scenario is presented, and then some serious role-playing begins. It’s intense, but it’s the favorite part of the training for Officer Richard Breece of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College Police Department.

“If you can handle it here and adjust here, and re-focus here, then you can do it out in the real world,” he said.

The Crisis Intervention Training, which has been around since 2016, is run through Pine Belt Mental Health. It initially began in Jones County but has now moved to 11 counties. Right now, about 100 CIT-certified officers are on the Coast.

“It’s priceless,” Breece said. “You can’t put a price on somebody’s life, whether it’s an officer or whether is the citizens that we serve, and this is just another tool in the toolbox to be able to use and try to steer away from lethal force.”

The program is offered to volunteers, and CIT Coordinator Linda Foley said it’s become even more popular.

“Coast officers - because of the leadership of the different police departments - have really embraced this,” she said. “And I see they’re making a difference.”

Breece said even more officers should be involved.

“It just needs to be part of the curriculum,” he said. “It needs to be everywhere. It needs to be everybody.”

Foley said the use of empathy and de-escalation techniques represents a fundamental change.

“Whereas before, officers will tell you anecdotally, it was fight, handcuff them, throw them in the jail and then fight in the jail,” she said.

Charlie Sims of the Petal Police Department has been through the training. Now, he’s helping as a role-player. He believes it is necessary training, not an additional burden.

“You know, this is just another way to look at helping people that may not need jail, they may not need handcuffs,” Sims said. “They really just need some help and some direction, or maybe just even somebody to talk to.”

For more information about the CIT program, check out its Facebook page.

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