Police seminar to focus on mental illness

A police seminar training session will be held at the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office training center Oct. 11-14 to help officers have a better understanding of mental illness. (File)

A police seminar training session will be held at the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office training center Oct. 11-14 to help officers have a better understanding of mental illness. (File)

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Staff Writer

COLUMBIANA – Auburn University at Montgomery’s Alabama Crime Prevention Clearinghouse and the National Alliance of Mental Illness are partnering to put on a Crisis Intervention Team training seminar for police to gain a better understanding about mental illness.

The overall goal of the CIT training program is to treat mental illness as a disease, not a crime.

“It’s an amazing thing for our local law enforcement to realize this is such a big deal,” said legal and mental health coordinator for the Probate Court Allison Boyd. “It’s a wonderful thing for our community.”

Boyd, who was behind the organizing efforts of bringing the program to Shelby County, said the point of the training is to give law enforcement an insight into people suffering with mental illness.

“The officers are having to respond to calls and go out and deal with people who have mental illnesses every day, and when they don’t really understand what’s going on it puts not only the officer in danger, but it puts the person with the illness in danger as well,” she said.

Officers in the program will receive four days of specialized training in mental illness, crisis intervention techniques involving role playing and individual interactions with individuals who have a mental illness in various stages of recovery so they will be better prepared to work with someone in crisis.

Every year about 800,000 people with severe mental illness are incarcerated in U.S. jails, and a study by the U.S. Justice Department found that 60 percent of the people with severe mental illness in jail do not get treatment.

“Our local law enforcement is wonderful and it’s amazing to hear that other places try to model themselves after us,” Boyd said. “We are trying to go the extra mile to keep from just putting people in jail.”

Benefits of the CIT program for police officers include:

  • Decreased number of injuries to officers.
  • Decreased use of force.
  • Improved use of alternatives to arrest and jail.
  • Decreased time officers spend in the crisis unit.
  • Reduced myths and stigma of mental illness among law enforcement.
  • Improved relationships for officers and the community.

Benefits of the program for people suffering from mental illness include:

  • Decreased number of injuries to the consumer.
  • Better relationships between the consumer and law enforcement officers.
  • Removed stigma of unnecessary incarceration in local jails.
  • Improved access to treatment.
  • Increased chance that the consumer will receive continuous care.

The seminar will take place Oct. 11-14 at the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office training center at 543 McDow Road in Columbiana. You can register online through Sept. 30 by going to Aum.edu/acpc.