DECATUR — When the call about a disturbance reached law enforcement officers, they rushed to the scene and were faced with an issue involving a person with a mental illness.
This was no regular call, though: Video cameras recorded the situation, and the mentally ill person was an actor.
This was part of the training law enforcement officers across the Decatur-Macon County area experienced as they underwent Crisis Intervention Training, a weeklong program for law enforcement to give them awareness and understanding to respond to those with mental illness or developmental disabilities.
“We’re trying to keep the individual safe … and keep the officers prepared and safe as well,” said Theresa Lyons, coordinator for the Behavioral Health Court at the Macon County State’s Attorney’s Office. “We want them to de-escalate rather than escalate the situation.”
Officers were educated on a variety of topics during the 40-hour program, from being able to identify those with mental illness or excited delirium, and techniques to help alleviate contentious situations.
Officers were additionally put through re-creation of situations and even used a device to re-create the sense of hearing voices inside their head while officers issued orders.
Macon County Sheriff Thomas Schneider was among those who took part in the program. He said he has had several officers already go through the training, and the results have been staggering when it comes to their handling of situations dealing with those with mental illnesses.
“It’s beneficial to the consumer, and it helps with the liability,” Schneider said.
Approximately 78 law enforcement officers in the Decatur-Macon County area have taken the training, and Lyons hopes all will eventually take part in it.
Schneider said there were several ‘aha’ moments throughout the training, including demonstrations on how to deal with those with autism, that he hopes to use to assess where his officers stand on the issues and how to better improve themselves.
With the national attention focusing on the issue of mental health, Lyons said it has become especially important for officers to be able to identify and help those suffering from mental health issues.
“They’re not receiving proper treatment … and it just turns into a revolving door situation,” Lyons said.
A 2006 study by the U.S. Department of Justice found 64 percent of local jail inmates have mental health issues.
Ed Culp, an investigator for the state’s attorney’s office and retired chief deputy for Macon County, had never been to training like this in his 23-year career. He said afterward that officers with knowledge on mental health issues could potentially lead those with the conditions to get the help they need.
“Instead of being a quick fix … maybe we can be part of treatment,” he said.