Crisis intervention trainees learn empathy; ‘because it’s not something they choose’

ST. GEORGE — With the goal of becoming better prepared to deal with unexpected situations, 29 participants from the law enforcement, legal and emergency responders community gathered at Millcreek High School in St. George Friday, for the final day of a Crisis Intervention Training.

Organized by the St. George Police Department and funded by the Utah Division of Substance Abuse & Mental Health, participants in the training sought to learn more about how to better deal with situations in which an individual they are encountering may not be in a normal state-of-mind.

“When you arrive on scene and a subject has a broken leg, you don’t expect them to get up and walk to your car, ” St. George Police Sgt. Albert Gilman said. “So, if you arrive on scene and the subject has a mental illness you may need to treat them a little different.”

In these situations, Gilman said, the participants encountered individuals role-playing as if they had conditions such as Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder and some with suicidal tendencies.

Friday was the final day of a week-long ordeal, Gilman said, with each participant being required to complete 40 hours of training time in order to become certified. Members of several different agencies from across the state attended the event, including some who were not necessarily emergency responders.

Attendees, Gilman said, included police officers, sheriff’s deputies, highway patrol troopers and prosecuting attorneys. While there were none present at the training, the event was even open to hospital security staff.

“Some agencies do require (the training),” Gilman said, “but it is not required as a law enforcement officer.”

Former CIT officers, along with members of Southwest Behavioral Health Center, were called upon to play the roles of individuals with these conditions and to interact with the participants seeking to become CIT certified.

One situation involved an officer responding to a complaint, only to find an individual with dementia claiming that his neighbors had placed cameras throughout his home.

The officers, without any prompts from the supervisors, were then required to interact with the individual in order to de-escalate the situation as best as they could. Some chose to try and change the subject to a common hobby while others took a more direct rout by asking the actor if there was “somebody we can call.”

In another situation involving an upset war veteran displaying symptoms of PTSD, participants were asked to de-escalate a situation as best they could within a specified time limit. St. George Police Officer Cameron McCullough participated in the scenario, and said these exercises are helpful because they allow participants a glimpse at a different point of view.

“… This helps us slow down, understand (what) they’re going through,” McCullough said, “get some empathy with their struggles because it’s not something they choose.”

Even though these trainings are not required for all agencies, McCullough said, he feels the skills he gains prove especially valuable in his day-to-day life.

“There are officers who are here that have 27 years on that have never been to this training,” he said. “So, I think it’s important because this is something we deal with on a regular basis. I’ll deal with similar calls to these three times a day in a 10-hour shift.”

In this training session, Gilman said, they saw a relatively large turnout, and hope to see a continued rise in interest as time goes on in an effort to increase both the safety of the officers and those they interact with in the community.

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  • native born new mexican August 21, 2015 at 10:26 pm

    Very happy to see this happening. It is about time.

    • AnotherReader August 22, 2015 at 10:02 am

      Great article. This CIT training has been happening in Washington and Iron Counties for about 9 years now. I would guess a majority of officers have been trained.

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