Union County Marks Mental Health Awareness Month with Police Training

What looked like a wrestling match or a judo class was, in fact, the latest in law enforcement training.  Union County law enforcement and mental health professionals have joined forces to implement Crisis Intervention Team training.  Known as CIT, this 40 hour joint training teaches police and mental health workers to respond to mental health calls using verbal de-escalation skills and less than lethal force.

Initiated by Prosecutor Theodore J. Romankow, Union County has held four CIT classes since March, 2011 with two more planned for June and October.  Class size is limited to approximately 20 police and 10 mental health professionals due to the interactive training techniques employed. Prosecutor Romankow stated “The goal is to have 25 to 30 percent of the officers in each department certified in CIT.”

As Mental Health Awareness Month began, 12 Linden CIT officers gathered at the John H. Stamler Police Academy in Scotch Plains to supplement their 40-hour training. While the goal of CIT is to de-escalate a crisis situation so that the use of force is not necessary, “there are times when words just don’t work,” said Romankow.    Traditional police tactical training involves an escalation of force along a predetermined continuum, which may include pepper spray, batons and other equipment.  While pain compliance may work under normal circumstances, a person suffering a psychotic episode or other mental health crisis does not feel the pain.  This may lead to an escalation in the use of force and possible injury to the officer and the person with a mental illness.

Employing a combination of martial arts and wrestling moves, the officers were trained in techniques to take down a person quickly and efficiently.  Led by Lt. Jonathan Parham and Sgt. Abdul Williams, both CIT trained officers with the Linden Police Department, the class was taken through a series of hands on exercises aimed at securing a combative or noncompliant person in the throws of a mental health crisis using minimal force.

The first tactical training of it’s kind statewide for CIT officers, the class was praised by both law enforcement and mental health communities as long overdue. “Individuals suffering from a mental health crisis obviously need immediate medical care.  Neither they nor the officer involved should suffer physical injury in an effort to obtain that care if it can be avoided,” said Lt. Parham.