Crisis Intervention Training Educates on Mental Health
Last week, 26 Officers from departments throughout Wood, Portage, and Clark Counties underwent Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) to develop a better understanding of mental health issues and how to handle them in their work.
Hosted by Katie Czys, Legal Services Crisis Supervisor for the Wood County Human Services Department, the 40-hour training consisted of in-class instruction, speakers, tours, and practice scenarios designed specifically to train officers to recognize and mitigate mental health issues on the job.
“Law enforcement officers don’t get enough training in mental health,” said Czys. “They don’t always have the field or street experience to understand the types of individuals they are working with on a day-to-day basis. They don’t have to diagnose, but they just gain that recognition and how to respond to mental health situations appropriately.”
Czys brings an extensive resume to the training. Her experiences as a Licensed Professional Counselor for Wood County, Police Officer and Firefighter in the Town of Rome, and Critical Care Paramedic in Nekoosa, as well as her educational qualifications (a B.S. in Criminal Justice, Biology, and Spanish, an A.A.S in Paramedic Science, and a Masters in Mental Health Counseling with a focus on crisis and trauma), in addition to her independent training for CIT coordination make her especially qualified for her position.
“I’ve been in law enforcement since 2003,” said Czys. “I personally had a different approach before CIT. After CIT, I realized that almost every call that I went on had a component of mental health to it, and I recognized there was a lack of knowledge and understanding in how to handle those situations. CIT helped me grow as an officer. My experience was so rewarding that I really wanted to share my experiences. In my role as the Crisis Supervisor here I’ve been afforded the opportunity to help educate our local officers and hopefully improve the services they are able to provide to our community members.”
The CIT mental health training encompasses a variety of topics to include autism and developmental disabilities, dementia, mental health diagnoses such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder and more. Helping an officer recognize when there isn’t criminal intent, rather something mental health-related, can help them address the core of the problem and prevent its reappearance. Training also allows officers to be more proactive than reactive, with the ultimate goal of preventing repeat offenses, increasing safety and providing appropriate services.
“Sometimes the normal law enforcement trained approaches can naturally escalate a situation,” said Czys. “CIT gives officers additional tools to engage with individuals living with a variety of diagnoses from an informed perspective. It hopefully gives them another way to connect and provide necessary services to the community with an approach that is more trauma informed and conducive to working with individuals who have some form of mental illness.”
In additional to developing communication skills, CIT also helps eliminate the overall stigma associated with mental health issues both within the law enforcement community and in the community at large.
With the prevalence of officers suffering from PTSD, anxiety, depression, compassion fatigue, and even the increase of officer suicides, addressing these mental health issues not only benefits the public, but also those wearing a police badge.
“We actually bring in a speaker who was former law enforcement who tells his personal story about living with bipolar disorder,” said Czys. “It’s important to let officers realize it’s ok to talk about mental health issues and help them recognize that while that they are cops, they aren’t invincible and they can ask for help.”
“It gave me a whole new perspective on mental health,” said Officer Jared Beauchamp, Marshfield Police Department. “It changed my entire attitude. I use it every day when I talk with people.”
“Whether law enforcement or not, when you gain an understanding on the actual illnesses people have, it’s a lot easier to talk to them and come up with solutions,” he added. “You get a better understanding on how to approach them. It made me a lot more empathetic toward mental illness.”
In a nation with limited mental health resources, any training that helps the problem is worthwhile.
“The whole nation suffers for resources,” said Beauchamp. “By getting a better understanding, a lot of times you can avoid additional costs and set up safety plans to help someone through their crisis. You can more than band-aid it. We can avoid sending them to hospitals that are overwhelmed. It avoids those medical costs that are taxing everybody.”
“We understand this isn’t going to solve everything, but even if every there is de-escalation in say 1 out of 5 situations, it’s helping,” said Czys. “It’s building trust with people who are struggling to where you can start to break down the problem.”
All CIT officers wear a special pin to designate that they have completed training, and the public is encouraged to request a CIT officer in the event they think one would be beneficial to a situation.
As only the second class held in Wood County, previously officers had to travel for training at a department’s expense. Having training locally not only reduces costs, but also provides training more appropriate to local service areas and highlights local resources specific to officers here. The training is free, with the only costs being officer pay for time. For the first two Wood County courses, a State of Wisconsin grant covered all costs and future grants and donations will be pursued to host future courses.
Marshfield Police Department now has 14 CIT officers, and hopes to have the entire department complete training by the end of next year. Though not all officers are going to specialize in Crisis Intervention, the training is a valuable resource for all to have.
“It’s a very invaluable training,” said Beauchamp. “Every officer should go through it because it works.”
Mental Health Crisis Line
Available anytime day or night
Wisconsin Rapids: 715-421-2345
For confidential over-the-phone crisis intervention by professionals who will provide a supportive listening ear for people in the community that are experiencing emotional distress.
Text “Hopeline” to 741741
24/7 Free Trained Crisis Counselors for those struggling, having a bad day, who need someone to listen, or need resources