They were from all different sectors of Carroll County law enforcement, the 11 officers gathered at the Carroll County Public Safety Training Center Friday afternoon. Some were from municipal police departments, others from the Carroll Community College police force and some were correctional officers. Some wore sergeant’s stripes on blue uniforms with crisp sleeves, and others Kevlar vests over top of more tactical wear.
But they were all the same in at least one regard, Westminster police Chief Jeff Spaulding told them. When they told their interview boards that they wanted to become police in order to help people, “you folks meant it,” he said.
This was the fourth and latest graduating class of Crisis Intervention Team officers, volunteers who had just completed a 40-hour training in dealing with people in mental health or substance use crisis as part of a joint program with the Carroll County Health Department. The now annual training was first conducted in 2013.
“Most people who come into law enforcement want to help, they just don’t necessarily know and understand a community that is dealing with special needs,” said Veronica Dietz, director of crisis services at the Health Department and one of the instructors for the course.
People with intellectual disabilities, autism or other behavioral health needs, especially if they are in the middle of a mental health crisis, may not respond to police in the same way as someone with a different life experience, according to Dietz. This can lead to unnecessary conflict and ultimately make police work harder for police.
“We give them the skills they need then to deescalate those problems in the community, reduce injury to officers,” Dietz said.
“This class has been eye-opening for me,” explained Sykesville Police Department Sgt. Shawn Kilgore, one of those officers awarded a CIT pin at the graduation Friday.
He now realizes how in some situations it can help to speak softer, to give someone an opportunity “to give me a little understanding why they’re acting like they’re acting.”
And this doesn’t just make things easier for police, according to Dietz. She said it also means that people are being directed to the appropriate resources to address their issues so they can ultimately live a healthier life.
“Rather than being incarcerated for their substance use, they are being linked with treatment services,” Dietz said, “rather than going to the emergency department for an emergency petition that will likely end up in them being released to the community, they are immediately being linked with a social worker, myself, who then links them with resources.”
This is indeed a new skillset for police, as Spaulding acknowledged to the graduates in his remarks.
“This is not a set of skills that everyone in police work wishes to learn,” he said. “Some people want to run and gun, and go out and throw handcuffs on people, and they think that handcuffs and ticket books will solve every problem.”
It doesn’t take a special training to realize that’s a losing strategy, according to Kilgore.
As a young officer, I was always quick to put somebody in handcuffs and think it was someone else’s problem,” he said. “Now I know, after being in this job for a while, you’re not going to arrest your way out of this problem.”
With the 11 officers who graduated Friday, each stepping forward to embrace their instructors, shake hands and receive a CIT pin on their uniforms, Carroll County now has 45 CIT trained officers in law enforcement or corrections positions, according to Dietz.
That’s 11 more officers who understand, Kilgore said, that “everybody is human, and sometimes they may need a shoulder to lean on more than they need to be put in handcuffs and put in a car.”