JAMESTOWN – Law enforcement officers from across Chautauqua County are taking steps to enhance their response to mental health calls.
It’s part of the Crisis Intervention Team Training, a New York State Senate funded course.
“This part of the program is the week-long intensive training for law enforcement and related disciplines recognizing and responding to mental illness and related disorders,” explains Dr. Don Kamin, the class’s instructor.
Dr. Kamin led instruction at SUNY JCC, with the group graduating on Friday.
“We’ve seen an unprecedented spike in people in mental health crises, substance abuse crises, and our law enforcement are the tip of that spear. For them to be able to have the training to ensure they can de-escalate and properly handle those folks that are in crises is very very important. It certainly makes everyone more safe, the community more safe, but also those folks that are suffering from crisis and those law enforcement officers as well,” says Borrello.
State Senator George Borrello continued that this program is one way in which the state is enhancing its mental health response, with increasing the number of mental health evaluation beds and strengthening Kendra’s Law as the next steps.
The group learned about different types of mental illness and how to approach someone who is affected by them in an effective way.
“We talk a lot about communication techniques, about slowing down, about being empathic and developing rapport and connecting with individuals to help de-escalate the situation,” says Dr. Kamin. “We also talked a lot today about the different community resources that are available.”
The doctor said that finding help for individuals once the situation is resolved is the next step in the officers training.
Sheriff Jim Quattrone explained that community members were given the opportunity to voice their concerns about how law enforcement deals with mental health crises, and how they can improve.
“Today we had people here that were consumers, people who had unfortunately had run-ins with law enforcement in an emotional crisis and we discussed what works, what doesn’t, what they would like to see from law enforcement. That helps the officers to understand better how to compassionately deal with somebody who is in an emotional crisis,” says Quattrone.
The Sheriff continued that diverting those in a mental health crisis from jails and hospitals, and instead utilizing community resources is more beneficial for the individual themselves as well as less costly.
Dr. Kamin says this training is one of the first steps in transforming the system, with the ultimate goal of police officers not being the first to respond to a mental health situation. Instead, it would be a mental health professional.
This graduating class is the first of many to come, as Jamestown Mayor Eddie Sunduist says these calls are becoming the most frequent in the area.
“Checking on the wellbeing of someone, mental health calls, are one of the top calls that we see in the city of Jamestown. And to see our officers be a part of that and to understand what it takes to deal with someone in crisis is a really incredible thing, and I am honored for the city to be a part of it,” says Sundquist.
Eventually, Sundquist hopes these skills will be included in basic police academy training. Senator Borrello is also pushing for additional funding, to host future classes.