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15 law enforcement officers trained in crisis intervention throughout region

First ever Southeast Iowa Link CIT held at HC Courthouse last week

Some law enforcement officers will be adding a “CIT” pin to their lapels after completing a 40-hour crisis intervention training at the Henry County Courthouse last week.

Crisis intervention training (CIT) educates law enforcement officers how to safely and effectively address the needs of people with mental illness in their community. It is designed to connect them with the appropriate services and reduce the number of incarcerated individuals.

The 40-hour CIT held at the courthouse this week was a regional training for counties that are part of Southeast Iowa Link serving Henry, Washington, Des Moines, Jefferson, Keokuk, Lee, Louisa and Van Buren counties.

“We’re trying to repair the holes in our fragmented health care system and identify what is going on and assist people through treatment instead of putting them in jail,” said Alan Brady, Transition Link and Jail Alternatives Coordinator for Washington and Keokuk counties.

Certified CIT officers will wear a “CIT” pin when on the job so the people they interact with know they are certified. CIT certified officers can also be requested when requesting assistance from law enforcement, Brady said.

CIT teaches officers to use less force, make fewer arrests and lower recidivism, the tendency of a convicted criminal to reoffend, Brady explained. “It’s a small step toward a greater scheme of CIT,” he said, adding that in the future he hopes to have CIT for first responders, doctors and other hospital staff.

Hosting their own CIT is a goal the region has had for a long time, said Sarah Berndt, Henry County Coordinator of Disability Services. “I think it’s been eye-opening for the men and women who are going through it. The officers who are there have the right disposition. They want to be there. They want to engage with folks in crisis better,” she said.

Topics during CIT included child and adolescent intervention; mental health disorders such as psychosis and schizophrenia, personality disorders, PTSD and addiction; and hospital procedures.

“Crisis intervention training is just being human to people,” said Rusty Simpson, a deputy with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office.

Simpson said something struck a nerve with him during training days, and after 17 years in law enforcement, he can always learn something new.

That’s something that CIT-certified officer and speaker during last week’s training Casey Thompson found to be true as well. Not only does he have 15 years in law enforcement, he has 17 years of experience as a paramedic.

The director of ambulance services at Keokuk County Health Center in Sigourney said police departments are being deployed on more than just criminal cases. They are advocates for the people in their community.

“We talk about depression to PTSD to suicide, but what it all boils down to is that the person still is a living, breathing being who deserves your undivided attention,” Thompson said. “People’s perspective of police should be that they are here to help and be their friend.”

Mark Miller, a deputy with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department, said dealing with people in mental health crisis is a big part of his job. His big take-away was learning about the different illnesses out there and how to talk to those individuals, humanize them and direct them to the proper resources.

Trevor Phillips, a deputy with the Des Moines County Sheriff’s Office, said through the training he was able to approach crisis situations differently. Now, he knows how to step back, listen actively, ask open-ended questions and calm someone down to get to the root of the problem.

CIT is important because law enforcement is often the first point of contact for people who need mental health assistance, said Bobbie Wulf, mental health and disability services director and coordinator in Washington County.

“There are so many benefits (law enforcement officers) can take away from a training like this,” Wulf said. “The goal is positive outcomes for our communities and to spur mental health awareness. To me, this is truly a partnership that needed to be built.”

Previously, law enforcement officers from the Southeast Iowa Link area would participate in a two-day training in either San Antonio, Texas, Missouri or Johnson County, with the region covering transportation costs and lodging. Fifteen individuals participated in the training last week, joining the 12 already CIT-certified officers in the region.

Southeast Iowa Link plans to hold CIT twice a year around March or April and October or November.