Encore November 2016

Page 10

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Learning to Listen

Training gives officers tools to help those with mental illness by

Charles D. Thomas


he situation playing out is bad. A man has gone to his wife’s workplace to confront her about his belief she is having an affair. He’s locked himself in a room with her and is screaming insults as her co-workers listen in terror and one calls 911. When the police arrive, they hear the man threaten his wife’s life through the locked metal door. On most days this would be a dangerous crisis, but today it is only a simulation. The police officers are real, but their guns are plastic and the man and woman involved are actors. The role playing is part of Crisis Intervention Team training, a five-day course designed to teach officers to “de-escalate a crisis situation to a point of stabilization,” says CIT coordinator and former Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety detective Steve Ouding. The training is run by Kalamazoo Community Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services and law enforcement agencies in Kalamazoo County. For the 38 officers in this session, CIT training starts not with dramatic role playing, but with three days of classroom instruction. In the classroom, officers are taught about the varieties of mental illness by a team of local mental health professionals and hear from those in recovery from mental illness about what it’s like to suffer from a behavioral health disorder. Often the loved ones of those in recovery will speak to the trainees about their unique struggles. The officers are also taught active-listening skills used by mental health counselors that can help calm those in crisis. It’s a powerful and eye-opening few days for the officers because these are skills not often taught in police academy training, Ouding says. The last two days of the training put officers’ newfound skills and knowledge to work through An officer in CIT training listens as Dave Ray acts out the role of a schizophrenic man loitering near an apartment complex to do “surveillance.”

10 | Encore NOVEMBER 2016

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