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Officers graduate CIT training: Law enforcement personnel learn about mental illness and how to respond on calls

The Herald - 4/6/2019

April 06-- Apr. 6--HERMITAGE -- Grove City Patrolman Jason Bennett, one of the newest graduates of the Mercer County Crisis Intervention Team training, now knows what it's like to hear voices in his head.

Bennett, as part of that training earlier in the week, wore an ear piece to understand what schizophrenic people experience.

"It was haunting," Bennett said. "It gave me a great perspective."

The 24 class participants who graduated Friday at LindenPointe's Workforce Training and Development Center experienced such scenarios as being pulled over for a traffic stop while listening to various comments, including shouting and swearing, from the ear piece.

Bennett said the weeklong training, which was open to law enforcement and emergency responders, was beneficial, providing more knowledge about mental illness.

Classmate Brian Clark of Mercer County Juvenile Probation said the training also teaches patience and empathy for those with suffering from mental health issues.

"They're struggling with something out of their control," Clark said.

He stressed that law enforcement still has a job to do, but added that being cognizant of the challenges that mentally ill individuals face helps in dealing with calls involving them.

Laura Leskovac, CIT coordinator, said the 40 hours of training is designed to help people with mental health issues receive the treatment they need to avoid future problems.

Leskovac explained that the Hearing Voices exercise allows students to experience the auditory hallucinations that make functioning difficult for schizophrenic patients.

"It's a situational exercise," she said. "They get really frustrated."

Leskovac said trainees learn skills based on verbal de-escalation of a situation. She also cited the process of mental health evaluations and the limitations in p roviding treatment to those unwilling to receive it as factors in dealing with mental health issues in law enforcement.

She said the training is designed to reduce recidivism, diverting people with mental health issues from prison to the medical help they need.

In addition to Grove City, participating police departments were Greenville-West Salem, Hempfield, Hermitage, Sharon, Shenango Township and Thiel College. Other trainees were from Mercer County Jail and the PennsylvaniaBoard of Probation and Parole in Mercer.

This was the fourth class since the Mercer County Criminal Justice Advisory Board started the program in October 2017, bringing the total participants to 80.

CIT is based on a model developed by the Memphis Police Department in Tennessee.

Dan Pustinger, district director of the probation and parole board, was introduced to the CIT model in Butler County.

"It's a very important program," Pustinger said.

The first three classes were funded by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency. The fourth and fifth, which will be held in the fall, will be supported by the Buhl Regional Health Foundation.

The county commissioners passed out graduation certificates to the class.

"It's bound to make a difference," Mercer County Commissioner Scott Boyd said after the graduation.

Lescovak said the training, which helps create positive law enforcement intervention, meshes with the purpose of police.

"They're police officers because they want to help people," she said.


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