Several area law enforcement officers are scheduled to attend a collaborative training course geared toward aiding interactions with people experiencing mental illness.

The program, called Crisis Intervention Training, will be provided with help from Ozark Center and the Missouri State CIT Council. It’s planned for Jan. 27-31.

Because around 10% of all police contacts with the public involve people with serious mental illnesses, such training efforts are especially timely, said Debbie Fitzgerald, Southwest Missouri CIT Council co-chair and director of crisis services at Ozark Center, in a statement.

“Officers with CIT training respond more compassionately,” she said. “There’s less stigma for them when they encounter citizens with mental illness in the community.”

The goal of the Crisis Intervention Training program is for officers to recognize mental illness and substance use and to teach techniques to deescalate a crisis, reducing the need for arrest and incarceration. The program also involves changes in police department procedures as well as collaboration with mental health providers and other community stakeholders.

Attending officers will receive 40 hours of training provided by mental health clinicians, police trainers and consumer and family advocates. The training includes information about the signs and symptoms of mental illnesses, mental health treatment, coexisting disorders, legal issues and deescalation techniques. The curriculum may also include content about developmental disabilities, older adult issues, trauma and excited delirium.

During the training, officers will visit agencies in the community and interact with panels of providers, as well as with family members of and individuals with mental illnesses. They also will receive training on resiliency, burnout and stress reduction for themselves.

“Officers have a very hard job, and the vicarious trauma they experience puts them at an increased risk for suicide,” Fitzgerald said. “CIT training increases safety for everyone — both for those with mental health issues as well as for the responding officers.”

After receiving the training, officers should be more aware of providers and services for mental health and drug and alcohol treatment.

“They share in a collaborative partnership,” Fitzgerald said, “and they know how to access services and treatment. They use force less and are able to reduce the amount of time spent on mental health (and) substance use calls.”

Ozark Center, the Joplin Police Department and the Jasper County Sheriff’s Department are all members of the Missouri State CIT Council and the Southwest Missouri CIT Council. Ozark Center is the behavioral health arm of Freeman Health System.

More information about mental health training through Ozark Center can be found at ozarkcenter.com/CrisisTraining.

Joplin Globe