M JAMES FOUST, center, portrays a mentally ill man in a scenario during Crisis Intervention Team training with local law enforcement last week. Dan Gillingham, a Hanco EMS employee, left, and Katie Wood of the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office talk to Foust’s character in an attempt to de-escalate the situation. (Photo by Eileen McClory)

By EILEEN MCCLORY

STAFF WRITER

It’s the last day of a weeklong Crisis Intervention Team training at the Upper Room Church of God on Findlay’s Broad Avenue, and first responders are learning how to react to people with mental health problems.

The first responders — police, firefighters and ambulance workers — run through scenarios with the help of actors from the Fort Findlay Playhouse.

In one scene, two first responders approach a house where a man inside has symptoms of paranoia.

In another, two first responders calm a woman having a medical emergency who won’t unlock a bathroom door.

The training lasted for 40 hours last week and was free for first responders who wanted to participate.

It taught them about various mental health problems, de-escalation tactics, and resources in the mental health community for first responders on a call.

“We’re very proud of the training,” said Findlay Police Sgt. Dan Harmon, who coordinates and leads the local CIT training.

He said CIT is another tool that officers can use in any situation, not just during a mental health crisis.

The de-escalation tactics could work in a variety of situations, he noted.

The training also contrasts with peace officer training, which is about taking command and controlling a situation.

Harmon said when he started on the Findlay Police Department in 1997, there were no ways for police to deal with a mental health call other than making an arrest. In the early 2000s, the department started to deal with more mental health cases when Ohio psychiatric hospitals started to close.

That’s when the Findlay Police Department reached out to the Memphis Police Department in Tennessee, which had a version of the CIT training. Findlay adapted that program for its needs.

A majority of officers in the Findlay Police Department are CIT-trained, Harmon said.

Several corrections officers and sheriff’s deputies from Hancock and Putnam counties, Hanco EMS medics, Findlay firefighters and University of Findlay security officers also attended last week’s training.

Eric McKee, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Hancock County, said his organization was involved because of its interest in helping those with mental illnesses.

He said someone calling 911 is already in an elevated state of stress, and for some people, a police uniform can be an additional trigger.

“If (the police) understand that, de-escalation can happen much quicker,” he said.

Funding for the training comes through NAMI, Harmon said, and covers such things as office supplies, books and printing costs. Food and most speakers’ time is donated.

Carl Etta Capes, a former CIT coordinator and a case manager for Century Health, said having a CIT-trained officer come to a scene may help those who have a loved one dealing with mental illness or addiction.

Callers can ask for a CIT-trained officer to come to a particular scene, she said, but, “people don’t know that.”

Jeffery Insley and Ritchie Nielson, both of whom have had run-ins with police during the course of their own mental health issues, and who now advocate for others who have mental illness, were present throughout the training last week.

Both are advocates for CIT and helped organize the training.

“There’s a huge difference in a non-CIT officer’s approach, the outcomes, and use of other options instead of jail,” Nielson said of his experience with Findlay police officers. “I think it’s a great program, and I’d like to spread it.”

McClory: 419-427-8497

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Twitter: @CourierEileen

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