Completion of the final fall Crisis Intervention Team training (CIT) sponsored by the Four County ADAMhs Board in early November marked an important accomplishment for the Defiance police department.
According to Defiance Police Chief Todd Shafer, nearly every road officer and supervisor has now completed the 40 hour training designed to teach law enforcement effective ways to de-escalate mental health crisis situations safely and compassionately.
In fact, Chief Shafer, his assistant chief Lee Martinez and Lt. Ben Williams were part of the most recent class, which also included officers from the Bryan police department, Pioneer police department, Napoleon police department, Northwest Ohio Juvenile Detention Center, Ohio Department of Natural Resources, and the Fulton County sheriff’s department.
“Our job is to serve and protect by providing peaceful solutions to problems,” Chief Shafer explained.
“My job (as police chief) is to make sure our officers have all the tools they need to do that – not just those they wear on their belt, but the communication skills and training to understand and recognize the type of crisis they have encountered. And, then to know how to use those skills to come to a peaceful solution without using any of the tools that they carry.”
“Nearly every call that we get is a crisis call of some type,” he continued.
While not all of the calls are a mental health crisis, he said Defiance police respond to about one or two mental health crisis calls every shift. And, the volume of mental health crisis calls has increased during the pandemic.
“Our officers have a lot of tools that they can use, but the peaceful solution to a problem is our priority and CIT training helps our officers do that,” he said.
According to Chief Shafer, the 40 hours required for the CIT training is a lot of time for a department to take an officer off their regular duty. Most trainings that officers attend are eight hours or less, he explained.
“But CIT is worth every hour,” said the chief, who has completed nearly 26 years in law enforcement. “What the class teaches is invaluable to what we encounter every day on the job. It’s why we made this training a priority for our department.”
Fulton County sheriff deputy Josh Buehrer, who also completed the CIT training in November, added that for him the most valuable information that he learned were the local resources. Knowing what is available to help persons who experience a mental health crisis and how to access those services are critical.
The four year veteran of the sheriff’s department explained that he had already learned many of the de-escalation techniques as part of his peace officer training, however, that training never really covered local resources.
“You can de-escalate (a mental health crisis) in a way that shows you care about the person,” Deputy Buehrer said. “But now I have information about resources that I can share with them and explain that it’s important that for them to get the help that they need so a future crisis can be avoided.”
During the 10 years that the Four County ADAMhs Board has sponsored the CIT trainings, some 186 officers have completed the class.
Drena Teague, a retired mental health professional, has coordinated all 13 of those trainings.
Attitudes change during the week, according to Teague. “It seems we always start with a number of the participants who are skeptical about what they are going to learn or how mental health professionals can possibly teach them anything because they have no idea what a police officer goes through.”
However, for many years two Napoleon police officers have been CIT instructors: Police Chief Dave Mack and Detective Jamie Mendez.
“As the week progresses and instructors begin presenting, the officers seem to relax,” Teague said. “Officer safety is emphasized along with effective de-escalation techniques for a mental health crisis, and the new techniques are presented as just another tool that they can use.”
The CIT training was initially developed by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) affiliate in Memphis, Tennessee, and the Memphis police department many years ago. Today, more than 2,700 communities throughout the United States regularly offer CIT trainings.