TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Dozens of law enforcement officers are in Tucson to learn how to better handle situations involving a person in the middle of a mental-health crisis or living with mental illness.
The Tucson Police Department, Pima County Sheriff's Department and Pima County Attorney's Office have teamed up for Crisis Intervention Training for more than 15 years.
Approximately 42 representatives from eight agencies are taking notes during the week-long training program.
"Police officers are being asked today to do many more things than they were 5 years ago, 10 years ago, and mental health is a big component of that," said Sgt. Jason Winsky with TPD.
Winsky is a CIT instructor and member of the department's Mental Health Investigative Support Team (MHST). He said MHST helped a man barricaded inside of a home in midtown Tucson to peacefully surrender on Sunday, Nov. 26.
Hours before that surrender, one of the first police officers to respond to the 911 call was CIT certified, according to Winsky.
"This is great training for that initial 911 call," he said. "This is the first person that gets to your house or your neighbor's house when there might be a crisis."
Officer Colin Roberts is one of those first responders. He's worked patrol for TPD for three years. He said signed up for CIT to help him better handle mental health calls.
"There were a couple mental health-related classes in the academy, but I really didn't think we would be the ones dealing with those," he said. "You would think there would be other people to go to those, and there are other resources, but during emergency situations when they're in crisis, we're usually the ones to go there first."
The goal of CIT is to help officers like Roberts to better understand the people and situations they'll encounter. Instructors told the class Wednesday that everything from appearance to tone of voice can make a difference. A call to 911 is a call for help.
"Our main job is to help you get through whatever you're going through," said Roberts. "This is something that people go through and we respond to help them with it."
Winsky said anyone calling 911 for a friend, family member or even a neighbor in crisis should provide as much information about the person and their behavior as possible. He said the more informed first responders are before they arrive on scene, the better they can handle the situation.
"We hope that any police officer that's on the street is going to be compassionate and use de-escalation when they're dealing with someone in crisis," he said.
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