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Yolo County's First CIT Training
By Lauren Keene - Enterprise (Davis, CA newspaper) staff writer - September 14, 2008
Armando suffers from bipolar disorder, a condition aggravated by his methamphetamine addiction. He paces the sidewalk outside his home, threatening anyone who tries to cross his path. 'I run this street,' he tells one woman. 'If you do something, something's going to happen.' Armando goes inside his home, where his mother says she's going to call the police. He responds by throwing a television. His mother calls 911. Three officers respond. 'I'm Jaime,' says one, inviting Armando to sit down. 'Is there something going on that we can help you with?' Armando is agitated at first, rocking back and forth as he tells the officers he's been up for several days 'securing the streets.' The officer also sits, enabling him to build a rapport with Armando by talking face to face. After a while, Armando admits that 'I just need some sleep.' The officer offers to take him someplace where he can rest and 'talk to somebody.'
Peacefully, they leave the house.
That scene was one of about a dozen that played out Thursday at the Community and Senior Center in Woodland, where law enforcement officers from throughout Yolo County put four days of crisis intervention team training to work. The goal of the training: to help officers deal more effectively with the mentally ill by teaching them to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental illness, de-escalate crisis situations and conduct suicide intervention, as well as educating them about the community services available for the mentally ill. Participants included members of the Davis, Woodland and Winters police departments, the Yolo County probation and sheriff's departments, Yolo court security officers, Yolo Emergency Communications, Safe Harbor Crisis House and the Yolo County Homeless Coalition.
The Yolo County Department of Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health sponsored the training, which got its start 20 years ago in Memphis, Tenn. 'The CIT training is huge on the East Coast and the Midwest, and it's been slowly coming out west,' said Michael Summers, a retired Sacramento police officer who now serves as Yolo County's CIT coordinator. 'This kind of training is valuable to all police.'
In May, a 44-year-old Woodland man suffering from bipolar disorder died of positional asphyxia following a confrontation with Woodland police, during which he was struck multiple times with Tasers and batons after reportedly acting aggressively and refusing to comply with commands. The police investigation into the incident is being reviewed by the state Attorney General's Office. Summers said the planning for the CIT course began about six months ago, prior to the Woodland incident. And despite its teachings, officers may still need to use force during certain situations to keep the public safe, Davis police Lt. Tom Waltz said. CIT training 'fits well into our department's philosophy of community-oriented policing, because it's focused on problem solving,' said Waltz, who sat on the steering committee for the CIT course. 'This isn't a silver bullet. It's not going to eliminate the need to use force on an individual if officers need to,' Waltz added. 'But we're hoping this will help them de-escalate a situation before they need to do that.'
Last week's training was provided by law-enforcement officers, mental health professionals and family advocates. The course included lectures and site visits to mental health facilities in Yolo and Sacramento counties. Those visits, Summers said, 'show how debilitating a mental health illness can be.' Yolo County Sheriff's Deputy Jerry Lazaro said he found valuable the course's instruction on how to identify and respond to various mental-health conditions.
'Not every behavior is going to be approached in the same way,' said Lazaro, a 19-year sheriff's department veteran. He said the training is particularly useful for newer officers 'who haven't been exposed to (mental illness).'
On Thursday, the officers put their training to use in a series of scenarios based on real-life situations. They included a visit to a woman who is suicidal following a break-up with a boyfriend, an elderly woman with dementia who reports her husband to police, and a developmentally disabled woman who has trouble communicating with a store owner who believes she is shoplifting. The scenarios were presented by the PointAcross Info Network, a Bay Area-based team of role players with backgrounds in mental health, substance abuse treatment and forensic psychiatry.
'We imitate things we've seen our own experiences,' said Donna Wolfe, who heads the company. 'You can tell there's a cohesiveness in this group. They already possess what it takes to have a genuine dialogue.'
After each scenario, the officers critiqued one another on their responses. 'It's nice to have more options,' Winters police Officer Jose Ramirez said of the CIT course. 'You're getting a lot of tools for your toolbox, and it really opened my eyes to a lot of the programs that are available.'