Those who serve and protect never know what or who they will encounter when responding to a call; therefore going through training can be the best way to understand how to handle emergency situations. For the past week local law enforcement officers from the Upson County Sheriff’s Office and Thomaston Police Department have participated in Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) which serves to equip officers to better be able to assist with people who suffer from mental illness.
They were also joined by Upson County Probate Judge Danielle McRae as well as officers and personnel from Lamar County Sheriff’s Office, Taylor County Sheriff’s office, State Department of Pardons and Parole and Spalding Regional Hospital. This is the sixth year Upson County has hosted a training class, which is coordinated by Sgt. Rodney Ozley.
Upson County Sheriff Dan Kilgore stated that the state requires that 20 percent of the workforce in any given county be CIT certified, but that locally officers have well exceeded that number.
“This is a great program that is grant funded through NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) and managed through the GBI. Georgia’s law is to have 20 percent of the officers certified, but our goal locally is to have 100 percent; we have well over 20 percent certified now,” said Kilgore. “It (the program) benefits both the law and the jail side of things. Lack of funding has made jails the number one mental health services. It costs the tax payers a lot of money.”
Throughout the week, students heard from expert instructors in different fields including those who deal with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and co-dependency. They also toured West Central Georgia Regional Hospital in Columbus and had the opportunity to speak with a patient to gain their perspective on the involvement of law enforcement and hospitalization. During class time, students also participated in role playing scenarios which served as a way they could test out the de-escalation techniques they had learned.
Kilgore noted that some people with mental illness commit serious crimes and have to be incarcerated, but that others may have been picked up for nuisance type of things like vagrancy, loitering, or begging. He continued, stating that there are better ways to serve those people than by throwing them in jail. Local law enforcement agencies work closely with the McIntosh Trail Community Service Board, which serves as the number one resource for those with mental illness in Upson County, through the Upson County Counseling Center. Center Director Rosemarie Hardeman stated that there are roughly 600 consumers in Upson County alone that the counseling center works with on a regular basis and in the last year 238 people have been part of involuntary transports.
If someone is considered to be a danger to themselves or others, but is unwilling to go to the hospital on their own, the Probate Judge can give an order for the Sheriff’s Office to go pick them up and take them to the nearest emergency hospital. For the order to be given, an affidavit has to be signed by two individuals who know the person and can testify they are endangering themselves or others. Upson Probate Judge Danielle McRae stated she was glad to be part of the class and become certified and hopefully can help during a crisis situation when the person at hand is unwilling to talk with a uniformed officer.
This year’s class consisted of 16 individuals, which Kilgore noted allowed there to be more hands on learning than there would be in a larger class. He continued saying they are hoping to do another class this summer because there has been so much interest from the officers.
“It is a great class,” said Kilgore, “and gives those in it hands-on experience. Sgt. Ozley does a wonderful job of coordinating it for us, as do all of the CIT trained officers and experts involved.”