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Training prepares officers for mental illness situations

Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal - 2/22/2018

Feb. 22--TUPELO -- A handful of officers are now better prepared to deal with situations involving citizens with mental issues.

Cpl. Will Morgan of the Lee County Sheriff's Office never realized how many people he has dealt with in the past who might have been suffering from a mental illness until he went through a Crisis Intervention Training program last week with officers from the Tupelo Police Department and the Lee and Itawamba County sheriffs offices.

"I've seen a lot of people who were going through crisis, but never realized it," Morgan said. "The training made me realize that some of the folks I thought were just not listening to me, might not have understood me."

"We responded to 15 calls (Tuesday) night and four or five of them were legitimate mental health issues."

Patrolman David Harville, one of four Tupelo policemen to attend, said the course was eye-opening.

"You just don't always think about (mental illness)," Harville said. "A lot of it is just talking to them like a person instead of a criminal and building a rapport."

During the weeklong training, the 10 officers toured facilities in Meridian and Lauderdale County and even got to talk with patients. Itawamba County Sheriff's investigator Mike Newlin said that was most beneficial.

"I loved the site visits," Newlin said. "I was talking to someone with (post traumatic stress disorder) and he said this is how you need to deal with me or someone with PTSD. That was helpful."

"I wasn't sure when the course started but by Friday, I wouldn't have traded it for the world."

Lt. Jason Putt of the Lee County Sheriff's Office said five deputies went through the training and he is already planning to send more.

"I am going to look at sending our School Resource officers," Putt said. "It would be good for the folks at the schools to have this training."

The newly certified officers were treated to lunch Wednesday at Lifecore, where they got to meet another resource available to them, the mobile crisis emergency response team. Mobile crisis supervisor Kris Riddle said the team was organized in 2014 and responds to calls to the Lifecore hotline 24 hours a day.

"We wanted to be able to meet the mobile team face-to-face," Riddle said. "In addition to the team being able to respond to calls with the officers, it works both ways. There are situations we deal with where we will be able to call for a certified officer to assist."

Officials hope to see the training expand to include law enforcement agencies throughout Lifecore's seven county region -- Benton, Chickasaw, Itawamba, Lee, Monroe, Pontotoc and Union counties.

So far, only three departments have gone through the training, but the need for more trained officers is there.

After Newlin got back from the training, he was talking to a Fulton police officer who said a suicidal woman who had mental issues came to the station last week and asked if they had a Crisis Intervention officer she could talk to.

"She was asking for help and knew who she needed to talk to," Newlin said. "But they didn't know what she was talking about."

In addition to expanding the training, Lifecore chief executive officer Rita Berthay said the next step is to establish a point of entry, a site where adult patients can be taken and evaluated to see how best to serve their needs.

"It would only be four beds, but you would only hold them for 24 hours before they were released or transfered to the appropriate facility," Berthay said. "We already have a facility. We just need to hire the staff."

A bill for funding the center is currently before the state legislature in Jackson. Berthay said things look hopeful but it could still be May before they know if funding is approved.


(c)2018 the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal (Tupelo, Miss.)

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