Akron Police Sgt. Mike Yohe has been on the frontline dealing with people in personal crisis.
He has stood on the edge of the Y-Bridge as people were ready to jump.
He has responded to help those who have slit their wrists.
Yohe, 45, has witnessed firsthand how the Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) — composed of police officers and dispatchers — has saved countless lives since the first training class was offered in Summit County in 2000.
“[The training] has really opened my eyes,” said Yohe, a 19-year police veteran.
The Summit County Multi-Agency Crisis Intervention Team held its training class recently for another group of 25 police officers and dispatchers.
The participants learned about mental illness and were taught how to respond to 911 calls involving people with mental illnesses. The course is sponsored by the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Summit County and the Summit County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Board.
About 530 law enforcement officers have taken the classes since they were first offered twice a year in 2000.
Since 2003, Akron police officers have responded to 7,031 incidents involving people in personal crisis.
Organizers of the class, which is taught at the office of Community Support Services and at Northeast Ohio Medical University, say it is important for those calling 911 to ask the dispatcher for a crisis-trained police officer to respond to a call.
“This has really become a great safety mechanism for both the individuals who may be affected, family members and officers,” said Douglas Smith, medical director of the ADM Board and a CIT course director.
The problem, said Smith, is many residents are unaware of the training and do not know there are police officers who have been trained to deal with people with mental health issues.
“We need to let everybody know that this program exists,” said Mel Reedy, president of the board of the Summit County chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Reedy said he became aware of the specially trained officers after they responded to his home to assist his son who has mental health issues.
“We want officers to know about these illnesses because you don’t want them coming in with guns drawn,” Reedy said.
Classes and exercises
The officers who attend the classes learn about the basics of mental illness, substance abuse and officer safety, and participate in role-playing exercises.
“We simulate having auditory hallucinations and we ask them to do some tasks and they can realize how tough it is,” Smith said. “If I show up at someone’s home as an officer, I can’t just order them to sit down because they may be hearing two other voices and the officer needs to understand they are not being defiant.”
A particularly troublesome area of the training is how to deal with homeless people or veterans who may be under duress.
Yohe, who coordinates Akron police officers who have had the training, had many such encounters downtown while on the midnight shift.
“At the time, we had an even more dense population of mentally ill and I was dealing with mental health issues every night,” he said.
He recalls once having to spend hours trying to talk someone out of jumping off the Y-Bridge.
Another element to the training, he said, is talking to a suicidal person who has a weapon.
“The cases involving mental health crisis can present a significant risk to safety forces,” he said.
About one-third of the calls the specially trained officers respond to are for suicidal people. Yohe said around 15 percent of all 911 calls involve people with mental health issues.
Lisa Marie Griffin, 52, of Akron, suffers from depression and is bipolar.
She has had to have officers assist her in the past and now speaks at the training sessions about her experiences.
“Had CIT been around when I first went on these crime sprees, my record might not have been so long,” she said. “The officers that responded to me back then did not understand what I was going through and I didn’t understand what I was going through.”
The training, she said, not only saves lives but also “builds community respect and it cuts down on fear of police and builds community networking.”
The next CIT class is scheduled for the week of Sept. 29.
Jim Carney can be reached at 330-996-3576 or email@example.com.