Advertisement
  1. Hillsborough

All Hillsborough deputies will learn how to de-escalate a mental health crisis

The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office investigating a March incident in Tampa where a deputy fatally shot a man with a history of mental health problems. The man was holding a knife and the deputy was cleared in the shooting, but Sheriff Chad Chronister said at the time that the case illustrated how often deputies respond to calls involving people with mental health issues. The sheriff has announced a revamped crisis intervention training program designed to help deputies de-escalate these kinds of situations when possible. [Times]
Published Jun. 11

TAMPA — The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office is revamping the training program that teaches deputies how to handle people in the throes of a mental health crisis.

The biggest change: The agency's 40-hour crisis intervention training is no longer voluntary for patrol and detention deputies. Now it's mandatory training for the entire force of about 2,400 sworn deputies.

The program's curriculum will also be updated with the help of local mental health experts, said Sheriff Chad Chronister, to ensure the new training is relevant to the situations that deputies are dealing with on the streets and in the jail.

The rationale for the changes lies in the large number of calls involving people with mental health issues that his agency must deal with, he said.

"I firmly believe that's law enforcement's biggest hurdle moving forward," Chronister said. "I think where we can make a lot of improvement is with de-escalation, and part of the de-escalation is deputies being more familiar with, and able to identify, individuals in crisis."

The sheriff pointed to national data that shows mental health crises are often a factor in officer-involved shootings.

"If we can decrease the deployment of any type of use of force by employing these new best practices techniques, that's a responsibility we have to the population we serve," he said.

Crisis intervention training teaches officers how to recognize signs and symptoms of specific mental health illnesses and how to verbally and, if necessary, physically de-escalate situations without using deadly force when possible. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement requires all police agencies in the state to offer some form of crisis training.

The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office already offers a custom-tailored, 40-hour program to any deputy willing to take part. About 1,640 sworn personnel members have already taken that course. Now the entire force — including those who already underwent the old training — will be required to take the new course.

The old curriculum included case studies from across the nation. The new program will include cases from the Tampa Bay area, to give deputies examples of what their colleagues in the region have experienced. The curriculum will also put a larger focus on military veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and drug-induced mental health episodes.

The revised program is the result of a collaboration with Hillsborough's State Attorney and Public Defender offices and local service providers lending their expertise: the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay, NaphCare, the Northside Behavioral Crisis Center, the Florida Mental Health Institute and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Crisis Center of Tampa Bay vice president for client services Sunny Hall praised the decision to make the more intensive training mandatory.

"To put officers in a situation where they're not prepared is dangerous for everybody, including the officer," she said. "Sheriff Chronister has said many times that you can't arrest your way out of mental health problems and I'm glad to see he's walking the talk."

Public Defender Julianne Holt also praised the sheriff's new policy, calling it another way to help "decriminalize mental illness." Chronister offered Holt's office two of the 40 hours of training time, and she said her office will use their time to stress the need for deputies to communicate with people in distress, and their loved ones who called law enforcement for help.

"Every time we are involved in cases where something might have gone wrong on either the law enforcement side or our clients' side, it's because there wasn't full communication of the actual situation," Holt said.

"Mental illness presents one of the greatest challenges in the criminal justice system," State Attorney Andrew Warren said in a statement to the Tampa Bay Times. "Crisis Intervention Training improves how law enforcement handles emergency situations involving mental health. This specialized training is a critical to building a safer, stronger community."

The Sheriff's Office also plans to open up the training to other law enforcement agencies starting this summer.

Tampa Bay area agencies take a variety of approaches to crisis training.

The Tampa Police Department requires four hours of crisis intervention training and offers a 40-hour program on a voluntary basis.

In Pinellas, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri's goal is for every patrol and detention deputy to attend a 40-hour training program offered by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, known as NAMI, said Cpl. Jessica Mackesy. She said that's been a gradual process because the program is only offered three times a year, and each Pinellas law enforcement agency gets a limited number of slots in each session. In the meantime, personnel who haven't taken the 40-hour training are required to take an 8-hour "mental health first aid" training course.

St. Petersburg Police Chief Anthony Holloway also wants all of his officers to take the alliance's training and is working toward that goal, said department spokeswoman Sandra Bentil.

The Pasco County Sheriff's Office offers a voluntary 40-hour training program for patrol and detention deputies. Lt. Toni Roach said about 45 percent of patrol deputies are certified in that program and officials hope to train the entire force within the next year or two.

Contact Tony Marrero at tmarrero@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3374. Follow @tmarrerotimes.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. This Mobil Coast gas station at 16055 State Road 52 in Land O Lakes is one of 10 cited in a Florida Department of Environmental Protection lawsuit where inspectors said they found lapses in regularly required tests, maintenance, documentation or other oversight by Brandon-based Automated Petroleum and Energy or its related companies. On Wednesday, the company said the station had already been put back in compliance with state regulations. (Photo via Google street view) Google street view
    The Florida Department of Environmental Protection contends Automated Petroleum and Energy Company failed to do required maintenance or testing at 10 gas stations in the Tampa Bay area and beyond.
  2. The city of Tampa has given notice that it plans to take over the McKay Bay waste-to-energy plant shown in this 2001 photo. Tampa Bay Times
    The city has given its contractor eight months notice that it plans to take control of the facility that turns trash into energy.
  3. Tech Data's headquarters in Clearwater. The company is one of the largest in the Tampa Bay area. TD AGENCY  |  Courtesy of Tech Data
    The Largo company’s stock price soared Wednesday following the report, which the news service based on information from “people familiar with the matter.”
  4. Yesterday• Business
    Col. Jennifer Crossman smiles as Boomer, a 5-year-old dog, sits in the passenger seat of her car during the firefighter challenge at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa. [Times (2016)] Tampa Bay Times
    Uber customers can now be connected with willing animal chauffeurs — for a fee.
  5. Yesterday• Hillsborough
    Grilling enthusiasts can find a large selection of grills, smokers and accessories at Carrollwood ACE Hardware. Special to the Times
    The store is located in Westwood Plaza at 4531 Gunn Highway.
  6. Yesterday• Hillsborough
    Jerome is available for adoption from St. Francis Animal Rescue. Courtesy of St. Francis Animal Rescue
    Jerome and his sister Jada are both available to adopt.
  7. Eric Wordlaw, 17, is wanted on a charge of attempted murder in an Oct. 12 shooting, according to Tampa police. Tampa Police Department
    He is accused of shooting an 18-year-old he saw at a store, according to Tampa police.
  8. An 18 month-old girl died after being left in a car Monday. No charges are expected, police say. WFTS  |  Courtesy of
    No charges are expected after 18 month-old girl was left in a Jeep as her father took a truck to work, police say.
  9. University of South Florida forensic anthropologist Erin Kimmerle pieces together a skull that might have been Amelia Earhart's. SANDRA C. ROA  |  University of South Florida
    DNA from a skull found in 1940 could prove whether the famous aviator has been found.
  10. Nearly a year after it was left abandoned and half-sunk off the Tampa side of the Howard Frankland Bridge, a salvage crew finally raised and towed the Moonraker II to the Courtney Campbell boat ramp. It is slated to be crushed. OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times
    The boat was an eyesore to those who live off Tampa Bay. Then it became a political statement. Now it’s been towed and will soon be crushed.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement