Helping people where issues include substance abuse
Posted on 01/28/2021
Officer Larkin is one of two officers who have completed CIT training. The Northville Police Department has ramped up its training in crisis intervention to educate officers about how to effectively handle incidents that involve an individual with a mental health disorder or addiction. This comes during an opioid crisis, when growing numbers of people – regionally and nationally – are addicted to the narcotic and may overdose from it.

Two officers, from a force of 13, have taken formal training in how to handle situations where substance abuse or mental health plays a role. Both Wayne County and Oakland County offer 40-hour training for officers that help them identify the cause of incidents, de-escalate the crisis, become effective at crisis resolution, and determine when the perpetrator should be taken to a community-based mental health facility rather than be arrested and taken to jail.

The program also promotes safety of both the officer and the individual in crisis. The Crisis Intervention Team website states that the course helps officers become better equipped to understand common signs and symptoms of mental illnesses and co-occurring disorders; recognize when those signs and symptoms represent a crisis situation; safely de-escalate individuals experiencing behavioral health crises; and use community resources and diversion strategies to provide assistance.

The CIT programs are community-based – involving police, health care professionals and local organizations. The primary goal is to keep people with mental illness out of jail and in treatment – optimally on the road to recovery. One of those organizations is COPE, which offers a drug rehabilitation program and recovery coaching, among other services.

“Instead of taking them straight to the hospital, which they may not get the comprehensive evaluation they need, programs such as COPE look at the person on a one-to-one basis and find out what issues they are having,” said Officer Melissa Vernon, who completed training in Wayne County in the fall.

“A significant percentage of our calls for service involve persons suffering from mental illness or addiction issues,” said Police Chief Alan Maciag. “This training prepares our officers to identify, de-escalate and provide assistance to those who are in need. The last thing we want to do is take someone to jail who is in need of treatment. My goal is to have every member of the department trained in crisis intervention.”

Officer Erin Larkin, who attended the training in Oakland County in 2020, learned how to implement new techniques in the (virtual) classroom through role-playing various scenarios. She was trained how to use visual and verbal cues to assess whether an individual was experiencing a mental health crisis.

The training enabled Officer Vernon to improve her verbal de-escalation skills. “You go on their level. You could say, ‘I see that you’re upset. Why are you upset? What can I do to help you?”

In a time of crisis, Larkin recommends that family or friends of an individual with a mental health issue or addiction learn what medication the person took (if an overdose is involved) and where they have received treatment in the past. That family member or friend may have to interact with police if the person in crisis can’t articulate their issue.

Larkin also advises that family or friends leave their contact information in an accessible location at the residence of a troubled person to help police get input from them if needed.

“Important take-aways from the training are the reminder that there may be undiagnosed, untreated individuals that are in need of care,” Larkin said. “When that’s the case, I can now direct the individuals to resources they may not be aware of.”

For those in crisis due to mental health issues, call 1-800-950-NAMI or text NAMI to 741741. The national suicide prevention lifeline is 800-273-8255.