Treating invisible wounds
Treating invisible wounds
By Sheriff Scott Israel
In August, BSO had the great honor of hosting the Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) International Conference. This opportunity to share and exchange best practices for mental health treatment with police departments around the world was a testament to how far we’ve come as an agency. Since police officers are typically the first responders to psychiatric emergencies, I made it a priority that our deputies receive training to handle mental health incidents more capably. If someone falls and breaks a bone, the next step is immediately clear: a trip to the emergency room. If someone suffers a psychotic break, a solution is not as easily prescribed. We were recently called to the home of a 25-year-old man who had become enraged and verbally aggressive, threatening his mother. She had retreated to her vehicle and locked the doors. The son followed, pulling the driver’s side handle repeatedly with force, breaking it off. He then started punching the car window.
Fearing for her safety, the mother drove to the community gatehouse and implored the security guard to call 9-1-1.Sadly, the mother knew the routine. She supplied the necessary information – location of the house, details of the incident, the age and height of her son and what he was wearing. She also communicated that her son had been diagnosed with psychotic behavioral issues, was not being medicated and may have been carrying a knife. The mother suggested he needed to be Baker Acted, a process under Florida law which allows an individual to be taken to a medical facility for in-voluntary examination and initial treatment.
Fortunately, the mother also knew to specifically ask for a CIT-trained deputy to interact with her son. B SO’s CIT deputies receive specialized training, which helps them identify and more effectively engage an individual suffering a mental health crisis. Based on the nationally recognized “Memphis Model,” the course was established nearly 30 years ago following the death of a man with mental illness who charged police with a knife. The model provides a more intelligent, compassionate and safer approach to these types of incidents. One of the keys is deescalation. In situations where moods and actions can shift and escalate quickly and unpredictably, the first few moments of verbal contact are critical to calming individuals.
Our 9-1-1 operators, who also take a CIT course, quickly assess incoming calls and determine the emergency response required. In this case, Deputy Jeffrey Smith, a CIT-trained, 34-year veteran of the Broward Sheriff’s Office, was dispatched.
Initiating conversation, he immediately noticed the young man was confused, incoherent and rambling. Deputy Smith recognized the signs and symptoms of mental illness and knew professional treatment was required.
“You talk to people in an upset state as best as you can without getting hands-on,” Deputy Smith says, who engaged the young man verbally for over a half hour before getting him safely out to a vehicle.
On the ride to the hospital, they continued the conversation, exemplifying the good rapport and positive relationship the two established on scene and reinforcing why CIT-trained law enforcement professionals like Deputy Smith are essential to effective policing. If this was in a community without CIT-trained police officers, the young man might have been confronted by an officer who did not know how best to approach the situation. It may have escalated, possibly ending in arrest or something far worse.
Since taking office more than four years ago, I directed that every one of our deputies become CIT-trained. Before I took office, there were only 173 active deputies with this specialized training in our entire agency. Today, roughly 700 of our active deputies are CIT-trained. And, within the next few years, we will reach our goal of having all BSO deputies complete the CIT training program. This will better allow us to serve those in our community who struggle every day with mental illness.