Tri-state agencies combat mental health crises with crisis response teams

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

Amanda Shaw is program director for Mental Health America of Northern Kentucky and Southwestern Ohio. She said the Crisis Intervention Team, or CIT, is a community-based response to help those battling a local illness.

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

The CIT training lasts 40 hours spread over a week. Shaw said the week is split into 25 presenters with different areas of expertise. Some of these areas include mental health basics, community resources, trauma, domestic violence, addiction, and dementia.

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

“But when I talk to the police and ask them what they think, they say 75-80% are calls for people in crisis 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 complete this 40-hour training. They even have their 911 dispatchers go through the training. Everyone gets consistent information and training on how to help people in crisis,” Shaw said.

The training was captured in real time as a WCPO 9 News photojournalist captured the CPD treatment of a man struggling with an episode of mental health.

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 the ground. The man refused. The police then fired several polystyrene bullets. Officers said they fired because the man had a gun.

He was then taken into custody. Police say the man will undergo a psychological evaluation and has been charged with causing a panic, not following orders and walking in the middle of the street.

Shaw said the goal of the training is for police to learn how to defuse a tense situation and get the help they need.

“Certainly seen a change in culture where police are more receptive and open to responding to people in a compassionate, kind and trauma-informed way,” she said. “Diverting people from the criminal justice system, where they weren’t committing a crime. They just needed mental health treatment.”

Springdale Police Department Corporal Melissa Abell was honored as Hamilton County CIT Officer of the Year on Wednesday.

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

“I think every department and officer should have crisis response training, be certified in crisis response,” Abell said. “It’s critical to what we do these days. A large percentage of our calls are mental health related. We need to talk better with people in our community. Manage our calls which could be very dangerous. Able to use de-escalation skills and tools to deter them.”

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