CANANDAIGUA, N.Y. (WROC) — The Ontario County Crisis Intervention Team is undergoing 40 hour training this week. Officers willingly sign up to take part in the program that they say raises the level of awareness and knowledge of mental health issues law enforcement comes in contact with every day.
It’s more than what it looks like on the surface, according to Sergeant Mark Taylor of Ontario County Sheriff’s Office.
“We’re training officers but it’s really about the relationship we develop with the mental health providers in the community,” said Taylor.
Jessica Mitchell is the Director of Community Services in Ontario County, and Director of the county Mental Health Department. She says from the moment someone calls 911, someone is in some form of crisis.
“Whether they have mental illness or another situation that led them to be in that moment in emotional distress,” she said.
In this crisis mode – things can escalate, she says. The choices made by officers and mental health providers in this moment are crucial. That’s where the training comes into play.
“It’s training officers to use verbal communication skills to slow things down, empathize with the person’s situation,” said Mitchell.
And in that crisis mode, the communication between all parties involved is important, as Taylor mentioned. The training works to strengthen those relationships.
“It’s a great collaboration of different agencies and people coming together to find best solutions for people in crisis,” said Lieutenant Nathan Lawrence, head of the CIT program in Canandaigua Police Department.
And without a program like this?
“We’d be back five years from now,” Taylor said.
And five years ago – there’s weren’t all these resources. Now, officers have options they can assess, in addition to just making a mental hygiene arrest.
“It may be making a referral to Code E program through FLACRA, if it’s a substance abuse issue it may be a referral to open access center if it doesn’t meet criteria for mental hygiene arrest,” said Taylor.
The department also has an iPad program, where officers can do a Zoom face-to-face call with CPEP (also known as comprehensive psychiatric program) to talk to a counselor at the hospital and assist in determining the best course of action. Members of CPEP can also arrive on scene if needed for assistance.