County intervention team being prepared for crisis situations

Authored by Jim Langham on Jun 11, 2012

A crisis intervention team (CIT) made up of a select group of law enforcement personnel who have been specially trained to more effectively handle crisis situations with mental illness needs is currently being trained to begin operating in Adams County.
Tonya Eiden, executive director of Park Center in Decatur, is helping put together a training seminar for those who will be participating in the team effort. Both the Decatur Police Department and the Adams County Sheriff Department have decided to implement CIT teams within their own departments, Eiden said.
The efforts is being guided by a CIT task force made up of both Judges Pat Miller and Fred Schurger, County Prosecutor Chris Harvey, Sheriff Shane Rekeweg, Decatur Chief of Police Ken Ketzler, Decatur Deputy Chief of Police Greg Cook, Dr. John Gibson and Alisha Bates from Adams Memorial Hospital, Kim Fruechte, representing the Adams County Commissioners and Eiden.
Judge Schurger noted that the concept of CIT originated in Memphis, Tenn. in 1988. Schurger noted that some of the benefits carried over from the Memphis model include an increase in immediate crisis response time, a decrease in arrests and use of force, a decrease in officer injuries, identification and care provided for underserved individuals with mental illness issues and decrease in liability of health care issues in jail.
Schurger noted that the Fort Wayne Police Department picked up on the idea and developed its own CIT 10 years ago with an effort spearheaded by Deputy Chief of Police Dottie Davis. That city's CIT has strong relationships with mental health providers such as NAMI (National Alliance of Mental Illness) and mental health consumers and their families.
Fort Wayne statistics note that in 2011, CIT officers responded to 1,234 calls, with none of them resulting in an arrest. Rather, those individuals who were in need of service were routed to an appropriate facility/provider to get the services that were most beneficial for the individual's situation. Of those 1,234 calls, there were only 40 uses of force.
Rekeweg said that his department deals with mental health issues in jail on a regular basis.
"Public safety is the most important thing in these situations," said Rekeweg. "Then we have to decide whether or not we are dealing with a mental or criminal related situation. Intent is the main thing.
"A lot of times in mental illness cases, emergency responders aren't trained properly to deal with the needs of the individual," said Schurger. "They don't know how to jump; they don't know how to deal with the situation.
"Some people with mental illness go through horrific problems," continued Schurger. "One individual had a fuse burned out in the basement and didn't know what to do. The officer went down into the basement and changed the fuse and that person calmed down immediately."
"The general public doesn’t realize how many officers are called out to people who are mentally unstable. It is a common occurrence," said Ketzler. "We had 204 domestic calls last year. Of those, 30 percent had something to do with mental illness."
Eiden said that the task force is working together to put together a 40-hour training module. She noted that a lot of people have come together to work to make this happen.
"Both judges (Miller and Schurger) will be speaking on the legal aspects," observed Eiden. "A variety of mental health professionals will be speaking on different aspects of mental illness."
The Adams County task force has been working with Deputy Chief Davis on implementation, Eiden said. The Adams County CIT will be modeled after Fort Wayne.
"The CIT Task Force is also focusing on developing solid relationships with various community partners," Eiden said. "NAMI in Fort Wayne has contributed to this process, and efforts are underway to develop NAMI in Adams County."
To become a certified CIT officer, law enforcement officials must complete 40 hours of training that is geared toward developing a better understanding of mental illness. The training also provides education in verbal de-escalation techniques. The Adams County CIT training will begin in September of this year.
The belief of the county task force is that CIT will help get individuals in need of mental health services connected for the appropriate services, reduce costs within the criminal justice system, reroute people from the criminal justice system who are truly in need of services and be a partner with the community.

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