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Crisis Intervention Team formed in area
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Henry County Sheriff’s Deputy Giles Parnell (center), and Martinsville Police Patrol Officer J.C. White (right) listen to Mike Wells (seated) of the Albermarle County Police Department, who portrays a man who believes he is Jesus. This was a role-play Friday at the Piedmont Regional Criminal Justice Training Academy as part of 40 hours of crisis intervention training. (Bulletin photo by Paul Collins)

Monday, November 12, 2012

By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

A man sat calmly at a table at “home” with his hands folded in prayer when two law enforcement officers came into the room.

The man’s mother had called police to report that he was acting strangely. She told the officers she didn’t know what her son’s problem was, that he had been pacing in the basement and not helping around the home. She said no weapons were involved, and then she left.

One officer asked the man his name.

“She calls me Mike,” he responded, referring to his mother, who the man later said has problems of her own. “Jesus is my name,” he added.

This scene — taken from an actual incident — was part of a role-play Friday on the final day of weeklong training for a new crisis intervention team (CIT) in this area. The training showed police how to appropriately deal with people who have a mental illness or other emotional disturbance, and could, according to Piedmont Community Services (PCS).

Continuing the role-play, the man said he was a carpenter who was tired from traveling a lot on foot with his 12 close friends (one of whom he was having some trouble with). The man who believed he was Jesus said he did miracles, such as turning water into wine and healing the sick.

He invited the officers to touch his black T-shirt if they were sick and they would be healed. Neither patrol deputy Kelli Shively of the Henry County Sheriff’s Office nor patrol officer Brad Campbell of the Ferrum College Police Department took him up on his offer.

The officers gently suggested that he consider counseling, but at one point, he asked, “Are y’all taking me to jail?”

Campbell told him it was more a matter of “policies and procedures.” Then the man agreed to go with the officers, but he wanted everyone to hold hands first and have prayer. Shively held hands with the man as he said prayer out loud, while Campbell kept a short distance.

There are about 12 crisis intervention teams in the state. Piedmont Community Services (PCS) got a $39,018 planning grant to assess the feasibility of and lay the groundwork for implementing the local CIT, and additional funding was obtained to operate the team through June 30, according to Marshall Farley, a retired Martinsville police officer who is working part-time coordinating the CIT effort.

The new CIT includes the sheriff’s offices of Henry, Patrick and Franklin counties and Martinsville, and the Martinsville and Ferrum College police departments.

CIT is designed to increase officer and public safety, divert away from jail and hospitals people who can more effectively be treated in community mental health settings, and make the most efficient use of limited law enforcement and hospital resources, a PCS email states.

The teams arise from recognition that some people with mental illnesses unnecessarily end up in jails, hospitals and/or lengthy civil commitment processes.

Immediately after the role-play, Campbell and Shively critiqued themselves, and two training officers, Valerie Blevins of Piedmont Community Services and Danny Wimmer of Martinsville Police Department, critiqued them.

Campbell said, among other things, he tried to actively listen to the man during their encounter. He said he didn’t hold hands with the man during the final prayer because Shively was doing so, and Campbell thought he should have his hands free for safety reasons. Shively said she felt the man wasn’t violent or a threat to himself or others but that he needed help.

Blevins and Wimmer complimented Campbell and Shively for covering the four “plays,” or fundamentals, in building rapport. They include the officer saying his or her name, finding out the client’s name, determining the person’s concerns and summarizing them.

Blevins and Wimmer said the officers showed concern for the man but didn’t buy into his delusions by calling him Jesus or touching his T-shirt to be healed. Wimmer said that Shively may have sat a little too close to the man, considering her own safety, though Wimmer realized she was trying to show concern for the man.

In an interview, Henry County Sheriff’s deputy Giles Parnell said during the week of training that he learned more about mental health resources available and techniques to help officers to better understand people with mental disabilities.

J.C. White, a patrol officer with the Martinsville Police Department, said he learned better listening skills and the importance of getting people in touch with the right resources. That, he said, will help them change behaviors and help governments save money by diverting them from jails and hospitals to community mental health treatment.

Shively said the training gave her a better understanding of how to deal with the mentally disabled, and she learned that officers can speak with a Piedmont Community Services representative while responding to a call.

Campbell said he learned some techniques for de-escalating crisis situations. He said he now has a better understanding of how court proceedings work and about available mental health resources, including help with rent, fuel and utilities.

Farley said 13 officers from area departments took the 40-hour training.

They received information about such things as various types of mental illnesses, how the brain works and what schizophrenics may be going through during hallucinations, and they did simulations of trying to do tasks while hearing voices.

They visited the emergency room and psychiatric ward at Memorial Hospital in Martinsville, Horizons and Southern Virginia Mental Health Institute in Danville and talked with people with mental illnesses.

Farley said he hopes the training will help officers be more compassionate and empathetic, and be active listeners to help identify people’s problems while always being safety conscious.


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