Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Crisis intervention course helps law enforcement assist mentally ill

The 46-year-old man had just lost his job, wanted to kill himself, and kept a gun in his closet.

Responding officers found his suicide note and chatted with him about his problems, how he needed money to send his daughter off to college, how he wasn't sure what was next. They offered to take him to Morton Plant Hospital for an evaluation.

"We need to fix this," Pinellas Sheriff's Deputy Sheila Langlais told him, "and get you some help."

The man was actually Cedric Taylor, a mental health technician who was role-playing in an exercise during Pinellas County's Crisis Intervention Team program, designed to improve interactions between law enforcement and people with mental illness.

"They're not dealing with criminals," said Donald Turnbaugh, past president of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, which helped found the Pinellas program. "They're dealing with people who are ill through no fault of their own."

CIT began in Memphis in 1988 and eventually expanded to other states and countries. Pinellas was the first Florida county, in 1999, to offer it. Now, 40 counties in the state, including Hillsborough, Hernando, and Pasco, participate.

Roughly 1,300 Pinellas officers have completed the 40-hour course, offered for free by mental health professionals, advocates and law enforcement agencies. Statewide, about 20,000 have graduated.

Law enforcement officers come in contact with the mentally ill often. At the Sheriff's Office, the largest agency in Pinellas, deputies respond to an average of eight mental health-related calls a day.

"In the (police) academies, we learn how to shoot, we learn how to drive cars, and we learn how to do all these defensive tactics," said Pinellas Sheriff's Deputy Thomas Kelley, a CIT coordinator. "Using your mouth and using your knowledge is probably going to be more beneficial to the public that are suffering from mental illness than any gun or Taser."

CIT is typically offered twice a year. In October, 35 officers from several departments attended the course and learned about the signs of different illnesses, medication side effects, de-escalation techniques, and information on mental health resources in the county.

On the first day, Kelley asked them to wear headsets. For 30 minutes, the officers listened to what a person suffering a psychotic episode might experience.

The recording started with whispers and giggles, followed by two or three voices:

"I came for you."

"You think this is funny, don't you?"

"They know what you did."

Kelley then asked the officers, while still wearing headphones, to complete a middle school level test on the Dallas Cowboys and a basic word search. Many couldn't complete either.

"When you got four police officers standing in front of you barking orders at you . . . what are they hearing? Who knows," Kelley told them after the exercise. "Let one officer do the talking."

Doug Leonardo, executive director at BayCare Behavioral Health, said CIT-trained officers typically provide relevant information to psychiatric facilities when they bring in someone for an evaluation.

"For the most part, law enforcement really doesn't know whether the individual in front of them has ever been treated, is currently in treatment, or needs treatment," he said. "They're coming upon the scene with more questions than answers. The training they receive really better prepares them for that."

Michael Hatch is among the roughly 160 Clearwater police officers who have received the training. He uses it often to interact with homeless people, many of whom are coping with a mental illness.

Several years ago, Hatch responded to a Clearwater Beach condo after a teenage girl threatened to kill herself. Some officers stayed inside with her parents while Hatch ventured outside to the balcony, where the girl sat on a chair.

After several minutes, she came inside and consented to a psychiatric evaluation.

"Whatever the pains and frustrations that they're having," Hatch said, "you have to be able to relate to them."

Contact Laura C. Morel at [email protected] or (727)445-4157. Follow @lauracmorel.

Crisis intervention course helps law enforcement assist mentally ill 11/06/14 [Last modified: Thursday, November 6, 2014 10:57am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Bucs' Vernon Hargreaves: 'I'm not making any plays'


    TAMPA — Eli Manning gathered his receivers together on the sideline during the Giants' Week 4 game against the Bucs and told them he planned to target the weakest link of the secondary all afternoon.

    Patriots receiver Chris Hogan gets position in front of Bucs cornerback Vernon Hargreaves for a 5-yard touchdown pass in New England’s win on Oct. 5.
  2. Suspect in Maryland office park shooting is apprehended


    EDGEWOOD, Md. — A man with a lengthy criminal past who was fired from a job earlier this year for punching a colleague showed up for work at a countertop company on Wednesday and shot five of his co-workers has been arrested, authorities said. Three of them were killed and two critically wounded.

    Harford County, Md., Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler shows a picture of Radee Labeeb Prince, the suspect in the workplace shootings.
  3. Lightning's J.T. Brown to stop anthem protest, focus on community involvement

    Lightning Strikes

    COLUMBUS, Ohio — Lightning wing J.T. Brown will no longer raise his first as a protest during the national anthem before games.

    J.T. Brown says he will work more with the Tampa police and groups that serve at-risk young people.
  4. The two Ricks tangle at what may be final debate


    ST. PETERSBURG — In what was likely the last mayoral forum before the Nov. 7 election, Mayor Rick Kriseman and former Mayor Rick Baker started out small, discussing neighborhood issues like recycling and neighborhood funding. They ended tangling over familiar subjects: the future of the Tampa Bay Rays, sewage …

    Ex-Mayor Rick Baker, left, and Mayor Rick Kriseman, right, debated familiar topics. The Times’ Adam Smith moderated.
  5. Tampa Chamber of Commerce announces small business winners


    TAMPA — The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce selected the winners of the 2017 Small Business of the Year Awards at a ceremony Wednesday night at the David A. Straz, Jr. Center for the Performing Arts. More than 600 attendees celebrated the accomplishments of Tampa Bay's small business community.

    Vincent Cassidy, president and CEO of Majesty Title Services, was named Outstanding Small Business Leader of the Year by the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce.