In 2019, Pines Behavioral Health set up a crisis intervention program to help Branch County law enforcement and other first responders assist people in distress.
Central dispatch often gets 911 calls with people threatening families, causing problems in businesses, or acting erratically on the streets.
From Jan. 1 through July 31 this year, Branch County law enforcement officers responded to 349 mental health-related calls, where the Crisis Intervention Team assisted.
Crisis Intervention Teams now respond when called by police to help de-escalate confrontations with individuals who are often just angry, upset, or facing mental health issues.
Pines jail diversion coordinator Mark Katz said before CIT in such situations, “It didn’t matter, you went to jail.”
Katz said the calls, “Do not count the number where first responders were sent to for something else but ended up being a mental health situation.”
Last week, seven more law enforcement officers, including Quincy’s two new officers, a juvenile court officer, and four Pines mental health providers, received 40 hours of crisis intervention training from Kurt Gawrisch, current Chicago police officer and now a specialist and instructor with CIT International and others.
Gawrisch said departments need training, “So that when officers come on scene, we’re able to talk with somebody, show that empathy, listen to them, and work with them for a good resolution or positive outcome.”
Branch County sheriff deputies, Coldwater, Bronson, and Quincy police officers received the training. “I think we are now up to 30,” Katz said.
Michigan State Police include some CIT training in their academy, Katz said.
Gawrisch said not everybody has the natural skills to deal with crisis situations. “It’s either natural, or you got to learn it and practice. You really have to practice.”
Garwrisch told attendees to learn, “By talking to people. But then listen. Learn empathy.”
He said communities must look at how people are handled to ease situations.
For example, when combative people go to the ER, embarrassment and the hospital setting often do not help and put hospital staff and the public at risk.
“Bring them into a living room like situation. They just need places to relax for a little bit to get the services they need,” Gawrisch suggested.
Katz said providing these extra services is important, so “You got to really be violent to get locked up.”
Katz said the training is designed to teach “skills to feel confident in handling mental health emergencies through use of de-escalation and knowledge of community resources for referring individuals to proper agencies for assistance.”
For those who do get arrested, Katz said, “We work with the courts probation to try to get them out of jail and into services.”
The program meets with everyone released from jail to offer help to get them proper clothes, housing, and employment.
Katz said, “For those arrested in summer just wearing shorts and not released until winter, we get them something to wear. We’d love to offer services and engage them.”
The programs are voluntary for those released. Of 47 people who accepted help from the jail diversion program this year, only four were re-arrested, and the other 43 continue receiving services from the Pines program, it reported.
Katz said CIT is a partnership between law enforcement, community mental health, and all first responders “to enhance safety for first responders as well as the person suffering from the crisis.” The CIT training also covers legal issues, petitioning and court processes, self-care, and ethical issues.
Branch County Community Foundation, Branch County Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the city of Coldwater, Branch County, Pines Behavioral, and Jimmy Johns financially supported the week-long classes.
Contact Don Reid: [email protected].