CPD begins Crisis Intervention Team program

CIT conference educates law enforcement on mental illnesses.

Columbia Police Department officers are learning how to better respond to people with mental illnesses. Lt. Dianne Bernhard and Sgts. Roger Allen and Ken Gregory attended a Crisis Intervention Team conference in Atlanta. Crisis intervention, which was developed in Memphis, Tenn., is specialized training to help law enforcement work with mental health professionals, people with mental illnesses and their families. "It's special training to better handle people," Bernhard said. This special training includes strategies for patrol officers who encounter people with mental illnesses. The team focuses on de-escalation strategies and redirecting a person from the criminal justice system to the mental health care system, according to Missouri's CIT Web site. CPD officers said they encounter people with mental illnesses pretty frequently but there are no specific statistics, Bernhard said. The department hopes to be able to keep statistics and be able to better identify mental illnesses after the CIT training. About 1,200 people, including advocates, police officers and mental health professionals, attended the conference in Atlanta. The conference started the formation of a CIT council in Columbia. The council has members from the police department, advocacy groups, mental health professionals and the court system. CPD has two officers who went through the training in St. Louis and hopes to have about 20 percent of the force go through this training at some point. "Our initial goal is to have two officers per shift trained," Bernhard said. The training is 40 hours about mental illnesses including the different medicines and available services. Bernhard will be meeting with the mental health court in December and expects department-wide information sessions to begin at some in February or March. Officers will be able to apply for training that will probably begin some time in the spring, Bernhard said. The department applied for a grant to fund the training but was denied. To save money, Bernhard is trying to get speakers from the community to volunteer to speak during the training. Bernhard said street-level officers must be actively involved in the training and while the training is mainly for patrol officers, interim Police Chief Thomas Dresner supports the program.

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