The number of law enforcement officers in Delaware County who are certified in crisis intervention far exceeds the national average, police officials reported last week.
Delaware Police Capt. Adam Moore said about 98.5 percent of 52 Delaware police officers have attended and completed Crisis Intervention Team training and are better equipped to handle situations involving mental illness or developmental disabilities. Moore reports the national average is 25 percent.
Steve Hedge, executive director of Delaware-Morrow County mental health & recovery services board, said the training is an intensive four-day course that educates first responders about mental illness so they can better read and handle situations.
Hedge said that during the training, police hear from people with mental illness and role-play with theater students from Ohio Wesleyan University.
“They get hands-on,” Hedge said. “They learn how to verbally de-escalate situations, how to position themselves and how to calm down [patients.] It’s a humanistic approach.”
“We’ve reached the point where all of our officers that have been here, our regular officers, are CIT-trained, but we’ve just hired two this week that haven’t [been trained],” Moore said.
Moore added that, with attrition and new officers, it’s been a challenge to get 100 percent of the city’s officers certified but said CIT certifications is a priority for the police department. According to Moore, the challenge of getting all officers certified is that there is a waiting list and the training course is four days long and is only offered twice a year.
Delaware Police Chief Bruce Pijanowski said one of the reasons the courses are offered so infrequently is because some of instructors are not local police officers and have busy schedules.
“Really CIT is a piece of a bigger picture of what we do in law enforcement,” Pijanowski said.
He said the Supreme Court has ruled that when reviewing a police use of force, it’s important to look at what is objectively reasonable to an officer in that moment without the benefit of hindsight. “It means a very specific thing, there’s no hindsight. So, if you shoot someone who was holding an air-soft gun that looks like a real gun, that’s not necessary but is it objectively reasonable? That’s where some of the discord with the community is coming from because that’s hard to swallow.
“The other piece is training our officers to avoid those situations,” Pijanowski said. “CIT is opportunity for de-escalation. If you have guys who understand that maybe what they are looking at has a mental health component or some sort of developmental component and you combine that with your training, then you’ve trained to not put yourself in a bad situation where you have to make what may be a reasonable decision to do something that may not be necessary.”
“It’s just a piece of this great big picture of responsible law enforcement,” Pijanowski said.
Delaware County Sheriff Russell Martin has a similar view.
“As law enforcement professionals, we are expected to de-escalate potentially dangerous situations on a daily basis,” Martin said. “The majority of times, it is our words, not actions, that help us to successfully de-escalate situations in a non-confrontational and safe manner. While experience is often the best teacher, Crisis Intervention Training is a great tool we continue to take full advantage of to educate our front line deputies and corrections officers so that they can confidently deal with persons who are struggling.”
Tracy Whited, community and media relations manager for the sheriff’s office, reports that 48 percent of the office’s 87 deputies have been certified with three more attending the training in October. Whited also reports that 33 percent of the office’s 55 corrections officers have gone through the training and been certified with three more scheduled to be certified this fall.
“We are building this big puzzle, so CIT is a big piece of appropriate use of force and community relations and our hiring process,” Pijanowski said. “All these things work together. Our job is to hire really good officers and then train them. Part of that is CIT, part of it is training to not put yourself in a bad position and part of it is understanding the community you are in.”
Pijanowski added it’s unrealistic when those who are critical of police say they should just not get into confrontational situations.
“We have to deal with confrontation,” Pijanowski said. “It’s how you deal with it. CIT gives you a tool and how to deal with [confrontation] effectively without resorting to use of force. It’s not on your gun belt but it’s a very useful tool.”
Hedge said Ohio and Delaware County are leading the charge for CIT training.
“The leadership in this county is great,” Hedge said. “You don’t see incidents here. It’s been a great partnership for us.”
Glenn Battishill can be reached at 740-413-0903 or on Twitter @BattishillDG.