By Robin L. Gardner
Nine members of law enforcement from the Cabarrus County Sheriff’s Department, the Concord Police Department and the Kannapolis Police Department earned Crisis Intervention Team designation at a special graduation held at Rowan Campus of Rowan Community College Friday.
The program began last January, and this will bring the total number of CIT trained officers to 37.
CIT training teaches officers how to handle crises that may come up in mental health situations.
A news release from Piedmont Behavioral Healthcare tells about one officer who was already able to use his training in a real life situation.
The officer told how a woman expressed feeling hopeless about her life and felt like she had no control. She then poured gasoline on herself and threatened to light a match.
The officer was able to use the skills he had learned in CIT training, talk her out of lighting the match, and convince her to go to the hospital for evaluation and help.
“If I had had this training 20 some years ago, I might have saved a lot of people from going to jail. This training has taught me how to talk to people and make a quick assessment. A lot of police training is assessment and tactical,” said Lt.Milton D. Davis, Jr. of the Kannapolis Police Department. He has been an officer for more than 24 years.
“This training gives me the opportunity to make a decision on whether a person needs mental health help rather than jail. A lot of times I miss that,” Davis said.
Concord police officer Dustin Wilhoit, 25, has only been on the force a year and a half but believes this training has given him valuable insight for the situations that he may come across.
“It opened my eyes to the things that are out there. It helped me to understand people with mental illness,” Wilhoit said.
The officers receive training in understanding mental illness, substance abuse, personality disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, and a series of other mental issues they may encounter in the field.
The program stresses safety first, and uses crisis intervention, verbal de-escalation techniques that can help reduce the risk to the officer that arise in mental health crises.
The Cit training is sponsored by PBH and is designed after a nationally-recognized program by the Memphis Tennessee Police Department.
Besides the special training it offers law enforcement, this program encourages cooperation between law enforcement agencies, mental health professionals, and local community agencies.
The goal of PBH is to have 25 percent of area law enforcement trained in CIT.
Chief Woody Chavis of the Kannapolis Police Department has a bigger goal. He plans for his entire department to be trained in CIT.
“A few weeks ago we had a standoff with an individual at a church with a gun to his head,” Chavis said. “We were out there for a couple hours and I had one of my CIT trained officers take over negotiations with him. He was able to say the right things and we resolved the situation safely.”
The officers graduating from the Concord Police are Officer Adam Atwell, Officer Angela Linker and Officer Dustin Wilhoit.
From Cabarrus County Sheriff’s Department, the graduates are Deputy Alesha Poole Mason, Deputy Ted Lister, Deputy Matthew Marciano and Deputy Matt Fisher.
Kannapolis Police Department graduates are Lt. Steve Belk and Lt. Milton Davis, Jr.
• Contact reporter Robin L. Gardner: 704-789-9140.