Identifying mentally ill in crisis program kicks off

Amsterdam Police Chief Gregory Culick, left, and Montgomery County Sheriff Jeff Smith both spoke at the kickoff of Montgomery County's Crisis Intervention Team program on Wednesday. (The Leader-Herald/Briana O'Hara)

FONDA — Montgomery County’s Crisis Intervention Team program kicked off on Wednesday to help train patrol officers on how to identify individuals with mental illness when dealing with the public or in a crisis situation.

To kick off the program, local representatives and officials met to develop a plan and put that plan into place.

“The first thing we do in this program is we look at the crisis response system and we want to look at that and transform that to make it so law enforcement actually aren’t the first responders, because if it’s a mental health crisis we ought to have a mental health response,” said Don Kamin, director of the Institute for Police Mental Health and Community Collaboration “So what we’re doing today is we’re doing some mapping. We’re actually going to map out what currently is available, how it works when someone is in crisis, what’s available before 911 gets called and we’ll send a report back and then in August we end up doing a training.”

In October, state Sen. George Amedore secured $925,000 in the state’s budget to help provide police departments’ road patrol officers in mental health-related issues and provide them with the knowledge, skills and support necessary to deescalate situations and divert individuals suffering from mental illnesses from the criminal justice system when appropriate.

Kamin said there are different indicators to identifying someone in a mental health situation.

Montgomery County Executive, Matt Ossenfort, left, speaks at the kickoff of Montgomery County's Crisis Intervention Team program on Wednesday. On the right is St. Mary's Hospital's President and Chief Executive Vic Giulianelli. (The Leader-Herald/Briana O'Hara)

“One indicator is what people are saying and how they’re saying it,” Kamin said.

He said sometimes the person might say that they want to kill themselves, or might be talking in away that doesn’t make any sense and the person might be delusional. He said there are verbal indicators and behavioral indicators — how someone might act.

“Those are the two big things we talk about during the course and then we talk about the different diagnostic categories,” Kamin said. “Some of them, they’re more frequently going to see in the public. Then we’ll talk a lot about how to interact with those folks, how to communicate, how to de-escalate and what’s available in the area.”

Amsterdam Police Department was one of the police departments selected to receive funding from the state-wide Crisis Intervention Team program. Through the program 30 officers will be trained and the department will be reimbursed $1,500 per officer.

Montgomery County Public and Mental Health Director Sara Boerenko said they will be trained on how to interact with people who are experiencing a substance abuse or mental crisis and get them into the appropriate treatment at the appropriate time.

“One of the things that we’re always afraid of with law enforcement is that they will unintentionally become injured on the job or the person experiencing the crisis will be unintentionally injured as a result of maybe something going on psychologically for them,” Boerenko said.

Montgomery County Executive Matt Ossenfort thanked everyone who was involved in initiating the program.

“This is another example of what can happen when people work together and providing better services,” Ossenfort said. “When you talk about serious issues like crisis intervention, mental health issues — this is an ongoing issue that we’re talking about. St. Mary’s Hospital has done a tremendous amount of work expanding services especially with the inventory detox program which was another collaborative effort with the state, senator, county and the hospital.”

Amsterdam Police Chief Gregory Culick said he is also thankful for the training to be offered to the police department and for the training to be paid for.

“That’s one of the biggest problems we have in [Amsterdam] is trying to backfill officers when we get training — it leaves our streets empty,” Culick said. “In fact the week-long training in August, they’re going to cover our staff the entire time with overtime reimbursements, so I’ll be able to keep the roads filled and get my officers trained.”

Montgomery County Sheriff Jeff Smith agreed with Culick.

Smith said in the sheriff’s office they get the 911 calls. “When we’re talking about people in crisis and mental health services, we see it on the phone, then we see it with deputies and police officers that are being dispatched to the call, then we see it in the correctional facility,” Smith said.

Sen. Amedore thanked everyone as well.

“When we talk about mental health issues, when we talk about crisis intervention training, we talk about the quality of life and the identifiers in society, how to disarm a dangerous situation or the unknown, Montgomery County is getting it right,” Amedore said. “I say that because of the leadership Montgomery County has.”