Among honorees during the Crisis Intervention Team training banquet Thursday were Warren Skinner, community mental-health liaison at Community Counseling Center; Cape Girardeau police Lt. Rodney Barker; Ashley Carter, wife of Cape Girardeau officer Jake Carter; Cape Girardeau police Cpl. Jake Scheper; and Cape Girardeau police chief Wes Blair.
Tyler Graef

 

Perry County Sheriff’s Department detective Cpl. Jason Klaus said the implementation of Crisis Intervention Team training in Southeast Missouri is because of the work of one woman, who died Oct. 8.

“There was one individual,” he told those gathered at Robinson Construction Event Hall in Perryville. “Her name was Audrey Burger. She had a vision.”

That vision, he explained, was to find ways to equip law-enforcement officers to better respond to people who suffer from mental illness. CIT training was the solution she found.

“It was Audrey who sought out this CIT program and brought it to us,” Klaus said. “Missouri wouldn’t be where we are as a state without Audrey.”

Burger recently received a statewide honor for her efforts, but the event Thursday was focused on the officers who have put the CIT training into practice in the area. The training teaches officers how to identify when and how to use de-escalation techniques when mental illness is involved in an incident.

The Southeast Missouri CIT Council comprises members from a dozen law-enforcement agencies, and its 30- to 40-person council meets monthly, Klaus said. While many area agencies have prioritized the training, the Southeast Law Enforcement Academy, Klaus said, now mandates at least 40 hours of CIT training to graduate.

““Mental illness is a crisis in our country and it is crucial our courts, law-enforcement agencies and mental-health providers work together to resolve these issues,” Judge Michael Gardner said during his invocation before the dinner.

Retired California Highway Patrol Sgt. Kevin Briggs delivered the keynote address. Briggs used techniques similar to those taught in CIT training to de-escalate more than 200 would-be jumpers on the Golden Gate Bridge, earning the nickname, “Guardian of the Golden Gate Bridge.” He said 60 people on average commit suicide there every year.

“When I first started working on the bridge I had no training and it was horrible,” he said, adding it “changed things dramatically.”

“We’re trained to go in and handle things,” he said, but CIT training opened his eyes to the power of slowing down. “I learned so much about active-listening skills.”

He said a police chief in Bend, Oregon, told him after implementing CIT training, use-of-force incidents for the department is down 44 percent.

“That is amazing,” Briggs said. “When you talk about community involvement and community policing, that is what it’s all about.”

Briggs shared one story of a 90-minute interaction, in which the subject climbed back over the rail, even though Briggs only spoke about four or five minutes.

“All it takes, many, many times, is just somebody listening,” Briggs said. “We have the ability to change people’s lives just by being there.”

Robinson Construction Co. received the CIT Appreciation Award for supporting the council.

Warren Skinner, a local community health liaison was honored with the CIT Partner of the Year Award.

“He has been a true partner with [the Cape Girardeau Police Department] since we started to get involved with CIT,” said Lt. Rodney Barker in presenting the award.

The Spirit of CIT Award, which is given to an officer who has not yet completed CIT training but exhibits the principles of the training, went to Cape Girardeau police Cpl. Jake Scheper.

The following officers received the CIT Officer Award of Excellence:

* Ben Neff of the Perryville Police Department

* Andrew Pecinta of Perry County Sheriff’s Department

* Jason Morgan of the SEMO Department of Public Safety

* Jake Carter of the Cape Girardeau Police Department

* Carrie Berry of the Cape Girardeau Sheriff’s Department

Cape Girardeau police Lt. Rodney Barker was named CIT Officer of the Year, in part for his efforts in helping start the department’s involvement with CIT training. Police chief Wes Blair credited Barker with taking the lead in that undertaking.

“He is a dedicated professional,” Blair said.

In accepting the award, Barker said, “I’ve talked enough tonight.”

By Tyler Graef | Southeast Missourian