The Matthews and Mint Hill police departments are ahead of the curve when it comes to crisis intervention training and making sure officers are prepared to meet the needs of all residents and community members.
The two departments have well passed the required percentage of officers certified in Crisis Intervention Training, which teaches officers how to differentiate between when someone is carrying out an act of violence in a criminal manner or when someone is acting out due to mental incapacity. Matthews has about 30 percent of its officers certified while Mint Hill has half of its 31 officers certified. The push nationally is to have at least 10 percent of officers in every police department in the country certified in CIT.
“Our goal is to eventually have everybody CIT certified,” Lt. John Rowell with the Mint Hill Police Department said. The Matthews Police Department hopes to achieve the same in the near future, Officer Tim Aycock said.
Matthews and Mint Hill started putting officers through the training at Charlotte Area Mental Health in 2011 in hopes of equipping officers with the tools necessary to best serve the community. After completing the training, officers arriving on the scene of a call may not immediately jump to the conclusion that a person is under the influence of drugs or alcohol and can better identify mental illnesses that may be causing certain behaviors, officials explained.
“It really opened my eyes up to look at issues in a new light,” Officer Kristin Tolman with the Mint Hill Police Department said. “Once we are called to the scene where someone may be in crisis, it’s not always drugs and alcohol, it could be other issues.”
This new perspective is why both departments are working to put so many officers through training.
“It just gives you a total different perspective,” Aycock said. “A lot of the things they put you through is putting you in that person’s position and it really helps you understand they are people just like us but they are going through a different issue.”
The focus on CIT in both departments isn’t something that has spawned from an increase in mental disabilities in the community, Rowell said, it’s from more awareness throughout the community in regard to different conditions like post traumatic stress disorder and schizophrenia, among others.
“People haven’t changed, but the awareness level is a lot higher now within the profession of law enforcement. Instead of taking them somewhere and letting someone else handle it … we are part of the solution instead of just going there and moving the problem,” he said.
With many officers at both departments being the first to arrive on a scene, they should be best prepared to handle any situation they are walking into, Tolman said. Officers are taught in training what to say, how to act and, most importantly, how to defuse a situation, she added – something that has proven beneficial as she continues serving the community.
“As a large part of our service to our citizens centers around people in crisis, employing officers who are both trained to respond and assist in highly-tense situations and also who have the compassion to aid those in crisis hopefully service our citizens in the highest level of professional and compassionate services,” Matthews Chief Rob Hunter said.