Officers trained to “de-escalate” crisis situations

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(KTVI) Police officers are trained to respond to emergencies. But some situations can be unpredictable and extremely delicate when they involve a mental health crisis.

Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training provides first responders the tools needed to handle those kinds of cases. All week, officers are receiving special instruction for mental health crises calls.

Sgt. Jeremy Romo with the St. Louis County Police Department said the skills learned are invaluable.

"We try to give them as much interaction with individuals that are living with mental health and substance abuse disorders so they can see that there's a lot more to an individual than their illness," Romo said.

Romo said often times; first responders become the default mental health system.

"There's no doubt that the CIT program helps us de-escalate these situations and helps us avoid having use force,” he said. "And more importantly, in a lot of cases, it keep individuals with mental health disorders out of jail and connect to the services.”

The week-long training exposes officers to resources available to those faced with a crisis. The officers visited the Independence Center on Forest Park Avenue Tuesday. The Center provides services and programs to assist adults who have serious, persistent mental illness, said Unit Staff member Andrea Noll.

"We had an officer today that asked one of our members, 'What advice can you give me to interact with somebody who is mentally ill?' she said.

The following day, officers heard first-hand from individuals who are living with mental illness.

"I thought that the gentleman who asked about, 'Was there anybody in my family history that's had mental illness?' That's a good question to ask,” Jim Pace said. Pace said he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia 38 years ago.

Pace said his advice was simple.

"Stand back. Stand back,” he said. “Take it all in. Look at the dynamics of the situation. See who's agitated. See who needs some soothing relief."