Friday, October 21, 2011

National Alliance for Mental Illness honors KCPD's commitment to serve

Our Informant newsletter this month highlights our Crisis Intervention Team Program. Two other local law enforcement agencies and KCPD led the charge to bring this program that serves the mentally ill to Missouri 10 years ago. It has saved many lives since. Check out the story below:

A woman threatening officers with a knife could have faced a far worse fate one February morning last year were it not for CIT training.

The woman was holding the knife and already had slit her wrist. She was agitated and hostile and approached officers several times, asking them to shoot her. Sergeant John Blomquist arrived, and his six years of Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training led him to believe this woman was no ordinary criminal. Rather, she was severely emotionally disturbed. Instead of confronting her with lethal force, he fired a beanbag round that knocked the knife out of her hand, and she was taken into custody to receive treatment.

The suicidal woman was just one of many whose lives have been touched since Kansas City Police embraced the CIT program a decade ago. On Sept. 21, the Kansas City Chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) presented KCPD with an award recognizing the department’s decade of dedication to training officers to respond to people in mental health crisis.

“It’s one of the best programs – if not the best – to have an impact on the mental health community in over 35 years,” said Guyla Stidmon, executive director of NAMI-KC. “I have seen some really big system changes for the good.”

A total of 403 sworn KCPD officers now are CIT-trained. CIT Program Coordinator Captain Todd Marckx said police often are the first people to encounter someone having a mental health crisis.

“The more knowledgeable and aware we are of what other people are going through, that makes us more prepared to help them,” Marckx said.

From Jan. 1 to Sept. 27, 2011, KCPD responded to 900 calls of an emotionally disturbed person, 37 of whom were armed with a weapon. Police logged 269 Crisis Intervention Team reports in the same period.

Ten years ago, Memphis was the only place in the country training police to deal with the mentally ill. Stidmon said KCPD, the Lee’s Summit Police Department and the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office were the agencies who wanted to expand it to a second location.

“Those were the three who said, ‘We recognize mental health and illness are an important thing to our community. We’re willing to take the chance, dedicate the staff, and work with you to design the program,’” she said.

Captain Joseph Chapman was integral in starting KCPD’s program. Sergeant John Bryant said Chapman convinced him to come on board after Bryant struggled with a son who has severe emotional health problems.

“We all think we’re 10 feet tall and bullet-proof, but police have mental health issues in their families, too,” Bryant said.

Bryant now teaches CIT courses in de-escalation and scenario-based training. He also shares his own family’s experiences to personalize the training and better prepare officers for what they might encounter.

“People don’t call 911 to invite you to a birthday party,” he said. “A lot of the time, they’re in crisis.”

Stidmon said the training has saved an untold number of lives.

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