The momentum of police departments adding mental health officers to their response teams is nothing new for the Kewaunee County Sheriff’s Department. It has been eight years since the Kewaunee County Sheriff’s Department and the Kewaunee County Human Services Department received a grant to develop a plan to have law enforcement and mental health services collaborate on calls. Officers were sent to “Crisis Intervention Team” training where they learned how to identify different mental health symptoms and how to interact effectively for more positive outcomes. Kewaunee County Sheriff Matt Joski says small departments need to have cross-training in both areas just because resources can be scarce.
Joski believes all law enforcement personnel should embrace the CIT philosophy through training to help them through volatile situations that may not be what they seem.
FROM SHERIFF JOSKI
Recently, there has been a great deal of focus on those law enforcement agencies that are creating “Mental Health Response Officer” positions within their agencies. These are great initiatives in response to tragedies which have unfolded throughout our country over the past few years involving those struggling with mental health, and I have been asked on more than one occasion why we don’t do a similar initiative here in Kewaunee County. This is one of many areas that we here in Kewaunee County should be proud of the forward thinking and collaboration that is exhibited by our local public servants. It was back in 2013 that I wrote the following article, and I thought I would share it again to demonstrate our efforts over the past 8 years.
Our communities face many challenges and we in law enforcement work every day to meet those challenges. One of the major issues facing so many is mental health crisis. These events of mental health crisis have various sources varying from physiological to situational. They can be caused by traumatic events either recently or from the distant past. They can be the result of injury either physical or emotional. What they all have in common is the impact on the individual suffering from them as well as that person’s family and friends.
For many years the approach law enforcement took in approaching and dealing with Mental Health Crisis was similar to how we dealt with criminal behavior. We have trained to have a well defined response to those we interact with. When we see something other than normal behavior, we historically took that as a clue for deceptive and/or criminal behavior. It is unfortunate that most people in mental health crisis have been met with incarceration rather than consultation.
We are starting to see a change in these scenarios due to a heightened awareness of mental health illness, and the increased collaboration between law enforcement and mental health services. A few years ago Kewaunee County Sheriff’s Department in cooperation with Kewaunee County Human services applied for and received a grant to address these issues and develop solutions. One of the components of the grant was sending all law enforcement officers in Kewaunee County to what is known as “Crisis Intervention Team” training. This is a weeklong training which introduces the officers to the variety of mental health illnesses, and keys to understanding both cause, and symptoms. By exposing the officers to this type of information, they can better identify these same symptoms in those they may come into contact with back in their communities, and interact effectively for a positive outcome.
I was fortunate to have attended the most recent class held at Fox Valley Technical College. I can honestly say I came away from that training with an increased empathy for what a person goes through when suffering with such an illness, and a greater appreciation for what our officers face when approaching what may or may not be a very volatile situation.
We are only part of the solution however, and each one of us needs to better understand what our family, friends and neighbors may be going through in a mental health crisis, whether it be the result of post traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury, or a crisis brought on by the loss of a loved one, or even financial stress due to job loss.
Thank you for allowing me to share this past article. Too often we think that because we are a small community that we lack the resources or initiative to stay on the cutting edge of the changes experienced throughout our nation. The continued universal training of all law enforcement officers in the CIT philosophy throughout Kewaunee County is another great example of how bigger isn’t always better.