Training law enforcement agencies to handle mental illness

Local News

Recent cases of deadly encounters with local police agencies are calling attention to the issue of crises intervention and mental illness.

WJTV 12’s Margaret-Ann Carter spoke exclusively with crises intervention officers about the importance of understanding the person you’re dealing with.

This comes in light of the deaths of Pierre Woods and Mario Clark, while these are separate incidents, both of the men’s families claim they battled mental illness and accuse law enforcement of using excessive force.

However there’s one agency working to create a better outcome for both sides through education.  

From a deadly police standoff in Pelahatchie, to the capital city where one family is blaming JPD for taking the life of their loved one, people are questioning how law enforcement is trained to deal with someone battling mental illness.

“Many times officers may perceive someone with a mental illness as being defiant, when it may very well be there illness and that’s influencing the way that they’re acting,” Tiffany Anderson with HBHS said.

Hinds Behavioral Health Services is working alongside local law enforcement agencies to teach officers how to de-escalate a person in a mental health crises.

JPD Corporal Frederick Suttles is one of the officers who says he’s learned a lot from becoming a CIT officer.

“We have to take into accountability these people are having a breakdown and when law enforcement comes people think that we’re here to arrest, but there is so much more to law enforcement that CIT gives,” JPD Corporal Frederick Suttles said.

CIT is the crisis intervention team, made up of officers who voluntarily took part in a 40 hour program to learn how to better serve those suffering in their community.

“How can we come in and calm and de-escalate the situation, first depends on our approach and I tell people, patience and being sincere and being genuine, goes a long way, because in that first 15 seconds the individual is going to understand, if you are there, and if you are actually there to help, or if you are there to intensify the situation, because the uniform itself sometimes speaks louder than our voice,” Suttles said.

Suttles says the program has changed his approach while on duty, because not everyone deserves to go to jail some people just need help.

“We have to understand the whole scope of things, we have to think ahead of the situation, because we are judged on our 3 second decision, where most people are not,” Suttles explained.

JPD Officer Anthony Johnson also took part in the program, “De-escalation could take 10 minutes, it could take 3 or 4 hours, that’s just something you has a CIT officer have to know that it’s not just a 1, 2, 3, fix.”

It’s a lesson that time could make the difference between life and death for both officers and the people they deal with.

If you have family member that is in crisis and you call communications for help you can request a CIT officer to come to the location, that number is 601-955-6381

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