A new team that is designed to provide first responders when a member of the community experiences a mental health emergency was formed in Carroll County Friday afternoon.
The Carroll County Crisis Intervention Team comprises law enforcement, public safety and corrections officers who have undergone special training to assist people in crisis.
"This is a work in progress," said Westminster Police Chief Jeff Spaulding. "We will tweak this as we go forward."
One of the many goals of the CIT, which has been in various stages of planning for two years, is to provide individuals with resources before they do something that leads to their being arrested, Spaulding said. Often, crime is a symptom of mental illness, and the individual would never interact with the criminal justice system otherwise, he said.
Seven members of the Westminster Police Department went through four days of specialized training this week. Also trained were one officer each from the Manchester Police Department, Carroll County Detention Center and McDaniel College Department of Campus Safety.
The training gave the 10 officers the opportunity to learn about mental health first aid, psychiatric medications, suicide prevention and legal issues surrounding mental health, according to Amy Baker, program director of recovery services at the Bureau of Prevention, Wellness and Recovery at the Carroll County Health Department.
"I think there was a newfound respect for people dealing with mental health issues," Baker said. Participants learned why people do what they do when they are in crisis and how to best de-escalate situations in the field.
"We can better understand," said Westminster Police Officer Christopher Obst. "We'll never be able to fully understand but we can now better understand."
Obst said the training added tools for him to use in the field, from identifying whether an individual's substance abuse is masking mental health issues to dealing compassionately with veterans dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder. After working as a hostage negotiator in Pennsylvania, Obst said he uses those skills frequently in the field and the CIT skills only add to his training.
All police receive a baseline level of training for interacting with people dealing with mental illness, Spaulding said, but members of the CIT have more specific knowledge of programs offered in Carroll County, and the names and numbers of people who can provide assistance.
Often officers interact with people in the community whom they suspect may be dealing with mental health issues, but unless those with whom they are dealing are a threat to themselves or to others, law enforcement cannot take them to the hospital for an emergency evaluation, Spaulding said. CIT members can identify individuals who may need to be connected to community resources before a situation escalates.
Baker said the training was also useful for her because she got to interact with law enforcement officers, and learn about their experiences and answer their questions. When both the Health Department and the police know how the other organization operates, they can most effectively provide aid to the community, she said.
The training also taught the CIT members about the wide array of mental health services the county provides.
Baker said many people aren't aware that the Health Department has certified peer support specialists, urgent care therapy appointments and crisis beds, which are one step down from inpatient treatment.
Obst said it will be helpful to know specific resources that are available in the county rather than instructing people to just call the Health Department's main phone number.
CIT members now have contacts and know where to direct people so that when they leave the scene of an incident, an individual knows they have resources and options, Baker said. Often, this alone helps them feel better, she said.
For the McDaniel College community, having a CIT member on staff allows campus safety to more effectively assist students and members of the nearby city, according to Campus Safety Chief Michael Webster.
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"I'd like every officer in the agency to wear the pin," Webster said, referencing the pin each trained officer received Friday to denote them as a CIT member.
Webster said students experience mental health issues after the counseling center closes, and it will be good for the campus to be able to provide immediate assistance.
Campus safety officer Sgt. Chris Collins said he is one of the county's mental health first-aid instructors, so the CIT training expanded on things he already knew.
Collins said students can enter college having been medicated for years for various mental health issues, but when they are away from parents reminding them to take their medications and put under the stress of adjusting to campus life plus midterms and finals, some need guidance.
"I am a strong proponent of this whole process," Collins said, adding that he hopes to see the team expand to include more members.
Spaulding said Carroll's CIT was modeled after the one in Harford County, where more than 100 officers representing every law enforcement agency in the county are trained. There are also teams in Baltimore City and Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Montgomery counties.
Reach staff writer Heather Cobun at 410-857-7898 or email email@example.com.