MOUNT VERNON — When dealing with individuals at risk and in crisis, law enforcement officers sometimes become overwhelmed by the critical nature of their role in saving the life of someone threatening to hurt themselves or others.
A training course completed by 24 law enforcement officers and mental health workers gave those first responders tools they didn’t previously have, and the skills to deal more effectively with people in crisis.
Tuesday afternoon at the Mulberry Street United Methodist Church, those 24 graduates received their certificates and pins identifying them as official crisis intervention personnel, trained to deal with some of life’s most volatile situations.
Veteran CIT Officer David Malawista, a commander with the Athens Police Department and a practicing clinical psychologist, spoke to the group of new graduates.
“I always avoided mental health calls in the past, now I run to them,” he told the officers. “I have more impact on people’s lives in CIT than in any other part of my work.”
Commending the group for its hard work during the 40-hour course, Malawista said the citizens of the county would benefit from the dedication the students had shown.
“You did a fabulous job and I think you’re going to see big changes in this community,” he said.
Local law enforcement personnel who took the course said they were given practical skills to use in the field when dealing with individuals in mental health crisis.
Patrolman B.T. Durbin of the Mount Vernon Police Department said that beause of the traiing, he now feels more comfortable responding to a call with a mental health crisis.
“I did have a call not too long ago, and it did help,” Durbin said.
Working with mental health professionals from Moundbuilders Guidance Center, a solution was sought which would best serve the individual in crisis and their family, he said.
“Together we figured out what the best option was for this person,” said Durbin.
“We have more options out there, more choices,” Patrolman M.R. Jones said.
“There is more that we can do to help than just arrest somebody,” Durbin agreed.
Crisis and hostage negotiator Deputy J. Ferenbaugh said the speakers who did the training were knowledgeable, which was made the training effective.
MVPD Capt. George Hartz said his officers have spoken highly of the training, and that he would like to see more members of the department utilize the training in the future.
“They really did a great job at the training, and CIT training and certification is going to be a benefit and asset for our department,” Hartz said.
Knox County Sheriff David Barber, who attended the training with some of his deputies and Capt. Richard Brenneman, said it was an important process to bring the training to the county with the CIT Steering Committee.
“Mental health has always been a priority of mine,” Barber said, describing his past work with the county mental health board and years of work as an officer at the Mount Vernon Development Center.
“It’s been a vision of mine for at least three of 3 1/2 years, and it took two years of work with the steering committee,” Barber said. “It’s neat to see where we are today.”
A community partnership between mental health providers and law enforcement was emphasized by Kay Spurgel and Wendy Williams of the Community Mental Health and Recovery Board of Licking and Knox Counties.
Both expressed appreciation for the NAMI, Mental Health and Recovery Board, and the United Way for making the training possible.
“We did what we said we are going to do, but this is just a first step,” said Williams.
All agreed government funding cuts for mental health services in recent years have made programs such as the CIT officers more critical than ever.
“I would like to thank you all for your commitment to this community,” Malawista said.