Local police train in defusing mental crisis situations

Local law enforcement officers and other emergency first responders gather after completing a 40-hour crisis intervention team training with Rick Brunk, left, the CIT certification training coordinator of Community Counseling Solutions in Boardman.

Local officers and other emergency personnel are better equipped to handle situations when facing individuals experiencing mental crises.

After training for 40 hours over four weeks, 18 local law enforcement officers and other emergency first responders graduated in May with Crisis Intervention Team certification.

CIT certification training coordinator Rick Brunk from the Boardman branch of Community Counseling Solutions organized the classes, which mainly took place at the John Day Fire Department conference room.

The instruction provided a toolbox of techniques to calm tense situations, including collaboration with the Community Counseling Solutions mental health team.

“We help them recognize the symptoms of mental illness and help them look for ways to manage mental health crises,” said Brunk.

One class he taught, called “Crisis Cycle,” gave insight into what may contribute to a person with a mental illness becoming upset, and what can help that person feel safe.

Brunk said they look for alternatives to arrest, if possible, when the person is presenting with indicators of a mental health condition and arrest can be deferred.

Grant County Sheriff Glenn Palmer said dealing with people who have mental health issues in the community has been a concern for law enforcement, and the training offered some ways to handle those incidents.

“(The training) gave us some different techniques on how to talk to people who might be going through a mental health crisis, getting them the right resources,” Palmer said. “If we can use our techniques to defuse the situation, and if we don’t have to make an arrest — it may be a medical or a mental-health crisis — sometimes bringing them to jail may not be the best solution. It’s not what we’re looking for.”

He added, “We’re learning to handle this a little differently than we have in the past.”

Linda Mills, a licensed social worker with Community Counseling Solutions who helped coordinate the training, said research indicates officers who receive CIT training have fewer encounters which result in violence, injury and death — not only against themselves, but others.

The full-day classes were taught on Thursdays with final instruction on Friday, May 12.

Instructors included some local experts, including Grant County Undersheriff Zach Mobley, Oregon State Police Senior Trooper Erich Timko who is a drug recognition specialist, CCS counselor Laura Brunton, Grant County District Attorney Jim Carpenter and several others.

The classes wrapped up with scenario-based training held at Humbolt Elementary School where officers and other first responders could test their skills in common crisis situations with help from volunteer role players.

Seasoned instructors and mental health clinicians were on hand to give immediate feedback.

John Day Police Officer Scott Moore said he found the training helpful.

He said they learned how to recognize symptoms of mental illness as well as psychosis from drug use.

“The tools we learned help de-escalate situations with ways to talk to them and approach them,” he said.

They were also given phone numbers of people who specialize in mental health.

“The main goal is to get them the help they need,” he said.

Agencies with individuals receiving training included John Day Police Department, John Day Emergency Communications Center, Grant County Sheriff’s Office, Grant County Correctional Facility, Grant County Community Corrections, Grant County Parole and Probation, Community Counseling Solutions and Blue Mountain Hospital District.

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