By Katie Demeria
Local law enforcement departments are taking proactive steps to recognize crisis situations involving those with mental health issues. Some are hoping to spread that knowledge by becoming certified trainers, as well.
Recently, Northwestern Community Services held its first “Train the Trainer” program, producing 11 certified crisis intervention team instructors.
Officers from Winchester Police Department, Frederick County Sheriff’s Office, Front Royal Police Department, Strasburg Police Department and New Market Police Department, among others, participated in the course.
Tiffani Ashland, crisis response center liaison for Northwestern, said that while the CIT program has been going on since 2007, the “Train the Trainer” program is a recent development.
The Virginia CIT Coalition coordinated an effort to provide four trainers to Northwestern, allowing them to train their first core set of instructors. Now, with the recent program, 11 more individuals within the area are certified to train others in the 40-hour CIT course.
“It trickles down, especially in some of those smaller jurisdictions,” she said.
Larry Lineweaver, police resources officer for the Strasburg Police Department, said he will not only be able to assist Northwestern in future training programs, but he will also train other officers within the department to understand crisis intervention.
“I think it’s a wonderful program and it has brought law enforcement and mental health professionals together in a very unique way, and that relationship has really started to build,” Lineweaver said.
Northwestern will hold another 40-hour training course in October, and a few more next year, Ashland said, adding that the 11 newly trained instructors will assist. The October session is already full because, though there is no requirement to become CIT trained, she pointed out, local law enforcement departments are eager to participate.
“Law enforcement officers have really important jobs that involve protecting and serving and maintaining the law, and dealing with folks that are mentally ill is one little piece of what they do,” she said.
“This gives them a ton of tools to work with, so they don’t have to go get a master’s degree in clinical social work, but they become really well versed in how to de-escalate and mediate,” she continued.
Eventually, Ashland said, Northwestern is hoping to expand the program to include all first responders, including fire and rescue workers.
The participants learn how to engage with mentally ill individuals so as to fully understand the situation and where the crisis is coming from. Active listening, Ashland said, is an important part.
Lineweaver said that while pulling the resources together to train officers for a smaller department like Strasburg may be more difficult, he feels it is all the more important for those in smaller communities to have that training.
“There’s no community services board office in Strasburg, there’s no mental health facility in Strasburg — [mental illnesses are] not as recognized,” he said. “When officers like us are trained, we can help to educate the public.”
“To have officers trained to recognize that this person is in a crisis as opposed to engaging in criminal activity makes a world of difference in how we can handle the situation,” he added.