August 20, 2014  

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Southern Miss Workshop Features Crisis Intervention Training

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Participants of the Crisis Intervention Training at The University of Southern Mississippi role play during the “train the trainer” event. (Photo by Tara Burcham)

Mississippi police officers and behavioral health practitioners received special training designed to assist them with creating Crisis Intervention Teams (CIT) in their communities during a workshop sponsored by the School of Criminal Justice at The University of Southern Mississippi.

More than 30 volunteers from Hattiesburg and surrounding areas attended the “train the trainer” event, June 18 and 19, on the Hattiesburg campus.

Retired Memphis police officer Sam Cochran and Dr. Randolph Dupont, developers of the Crisis Intervention Team model, provided the training. Cochran, a Southern Miss graduate, and Dupont have received numerous national awards for their work in developing CIT.

According to Dr. W. Wesley Johnson, doctoral program director in the School of Criminal Justice, CIT is “designed to build on collaborations between the law enforcement community and behavioral health providers.”

Officers attending the event received verbal de-escalation training and learned skills to later become trainers in their respective communities and agencies.

Johnson noted that officers are “trained in implementing the CIT model to de-escalate volatile situations and divert, when appropriate, offenders with mental illness from jail into treatment. Individuals with serious mental health issues housed in jails create substantial management issues and are a financial strain on municipalities and counties.”

He pointed out that communities across the United States have turned to the CIT model to reduce some of the pressure on the criminal justice system, while facilitating treatment for the increasing number of mental health offenders.

 “One example of the success of the CIT model is Bexar County in San Antonio, Texas, which generated approximately $5 million in savings in two-and-a-half years by implementing CIT strategies,” said Johnson. 

Cochran emphasized the program is all about promoting partnerships, and coordinating the talents and skills of participants to benefit the community and that is a “win-win” situation for the entire community.

“These instructors are presenting training to Mississippi law enforcement officers to be the first responders for those particular crisis events related to mental illness,” he said. “Partnerships between the mental health community, and law enforcement, combined with the advocacy of institutions such as USM and the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) benefit the entire community, especially those individuals who struggle and cope with mental illness.”

Cochran notes that in many ways, a lot of attention is directed to law enforcement.  However, the CIT program is not really just a law enforcement program.

 “It is a community program. This is a community effort and law enforcement is out front, but the services and benefit is to the entire community,” he said.

Cochran says the long-term goal of this particular program is to coordinate a better service effort with regards to people who struggle and cope with mental illness. The benefits include greater officer safety, better care for mentally ill offenders, fewer management issues for jail staff, and improved police community relations.

Major John Calhoun of the Lauderdale County Sheriff’s Department said this training will be “extremely beneficial” in the successful implementation of the Meridian and Lauderdale County Crisis Intervention Team program. 

“The training provided will assist the instructors in their preparations for the launch of CIT in Mississippi,” said Calhoun.

Dr. Garland H. Holloman, director of Psychiatric Emergency Service at University Medical Center said, “Crisis Intervention Teams play a major role in providing care to persons with acute mental illness. Two years ago, the Mississippi State Legislature authorized implementation on CIT in Mississippi.”

Holloman stated programs are about to be launched in Jackson, Meridian, and Hattiesburg. “The train the trainer classes held at USM were excellent and provided us with the knowledge and skills needed to train our law enforcement officers,” he said.

Johnson said the main focus of the event was to offer a “glimpse” into how a Crisis Intervention Team can approach dealing with offenders with mental illness. “This program has the potential to have statewide effects on police interactions with offenders living with mental illness,” he said.

“While this training was limited to selected officers from Hattiesburg, Jackson and Meridian, we expect the training will be offered again in the near future and officers and practitioners from south Mississippi will be able to participate.

For more information, contact Dr. Wes Johnson at 601-266-4511.