KINGSTON–Traditional police training often is not enough these days, and those who attended a graduation ceremony at the Ulster County Law Enforcement Center on Friday will be the first to admit that.
Kingston Detective Lt. Thierry Croizer said back in the day, he learned mainly about firearms, criminal law, how to write tickets and prepare accident reports.
“There was very little emphasis on interpersonal communication,” he noted. “Now, officers are much better trained, and they understand when they’re dealing with a situation, it may not be a crime. Maybe, there’s something else there. Maybe, there’s an illness.”
That was exactly the thrust behind the Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) program taught last week at the Ulster County Law Enforcement Center.
About 30 men and women from five police agencies completed the specialized training to spot and properly respond to incidents involving a mentally ill person. The idea behind it is to reduce the use of force and link people with mental illness to services.
“We’re now more understanding of what’s going on around us,” Croizer said. “Because we realize that it might be due to mental illness, we’re going to treat the situation a little differently than we would if there was an actual crime taking place.”
Fourteen officers from the Kingston Police Department took part in the 40-hour course taught by Don Kamin, the director of the Institute for Police, Mental Health and Community Collaboration.
Five from the Ulster County Sheriff’s Office participated, while the Saugerties Police Department had six, New Paltz Police Department, 2, and the Town of Ulster Police Department had one officer attend the training.
It was funded by a grant from the New York State Senate, which contracts with Kamin to deliver the training.
A big component is to make the “system more responsive to the needs of the community,” according to Rana Meehan, program specialist with the New York State Office of Mental Health.
“We often say that dealing with individuals who have mental health issues in the community is a reality for police officers,” she said.
“Deinstitutionalization, which started back in the 1970s, has become more and more, and as we decrease our resources in the state hospitals as well as private hospitals and introduce people into the community and shift all of our resources….obviously, more people will be living in the community.
“The chances of an officer coming into contact with someone who has a diagnosable mental illness or crisis has definitely increased.”
Kamin said the aim of the program is to give officers the skills to recognize mental illness and how “distressed” a person may be.
“What’s most important is getting the person the further evaluation and treatment that they need and getting them to the hospital or calling a mobile mental health team on site to do a thorough assessment,” he said.
“This isn’t about making officers mental health therapists. It’s about giving them some enhanced skills. In New York, the basic recruiting academy has some instruction on mental health, but this is a class for experienced officers who have the passion and compassion to be part of this.”
Saugerties Police Chief Joseph Sinagra said four officers had previously attended a CIT course, and already, they have put the skills to use.
“Unfortunately, in this day and age, we deal with a lot of individuals who are in crisis for one reason and another,” he said.
“I’ve been in the forefront–at least, in the Saugerties area–about how serious a problem it is, and it’s really important that we have the tools to be able to comprehend a situation properly…and offer the individual the care that they need.
“The most important thing about this is to understand where we go for those resources and how do we tap these individuals into these resources and ensure that there’s long-term care that’s being provided.”
Kamin said research shows overall that communities offering CIT programs result in increased referrals for treatment and decreased incarcerations and use of force by law enforcement.
“We’re still collecting the local data, but generally the national research suggests that we would have those same outcomes,” he said.