NAMI Delaware holds mental health crisis training for area officers
42 Delaware police officers completed Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training at Wesley College last week. CIT was created nearly 30 years ago at the University of Memphis and is considered the most comprehensive mental health training program for police officers in the country.
Last week’s session was the fourth full-length training in Delaware since NAMI Delaware Executive Director Dr. Joshua Thomas brought the program to the First State in May 2014.
Thomas, a former police officer in Florida, says he recognized some of his colleagues were affected by stress and trauma they were exposed to.
“It was early into my career that I recognized mental health seemed to affect just about every interaction I had, Thomas said. “There seemed to be a mental health component to every call I responded to, every citizen encounter.”
He eventually went back to graduate school and became a mental health professional. He started coordinating the Crisis Intervention Team training in Florida, where he was first introduced to NAMI.
“Police officers end up being the default professionals that respond to people in our community who are in mental health crisis due to the fact that we don’t have a lot of crisis resources available around the clock,” Thomas said.
The goal of these exercises is to better prepare officers for these situations and de-escalate them if possible. The hope is that will increase law enforcement referrals to appropriate mental health resources and decreasing the number of people arrested during a mental health crisis.
Thomas says one exercise helps officers understand the difficulties those living with schizophrenia and other mental illnesses have.
“In one component, all officers get an mp3 player and they get to experience what it is like for someone who has auditory hallucinations,” Thomas said.
Delaware Capitol Police Officer Kelli Burns completed the week-long series of classes Friday, along with 41 other officers. She says it helped her realize how she could have better handled certain situations.
“I can remember dealing with someone who was diagnosed bipolar and they were in a manic state, just going off and wanting to walk around and run around and they wouldn’t keep still so I ended up taking them into custody,” Burns said. “But if I had realized then that they were in a manic state I could have been a little bit more understanding and gotten them the help they needed instead of forcing the issue, putting them in handcuffs and making matters worse.”
To date, over 140 law enforcement officers from around the First State have received CIT training from NAMI Delaware.
Thomas says it’s difficult to gauge the program’s impact because the financial resources needed to do so aren’t available. However, he says the feedback he’s received indicates Delaware law enforcement officers are embracing CIT.
He also notes demand for the training is strong enough that there’s a waiting list for the program. NAMI Delaware plans to hold 40-hour CIT training session in the fall.