RANGELY | The omnipresent factors of life can cause a person to lapse in coping with difficult circumstances. Taking a look at the news or any given social media platform, it’s easy to see why there is an increase in mental health crises. Sometimes resources are available, but they are not always prominent or accessible. It leaves the question wide open, “Who you gonna call?”
“Ghostbusters” is the reflexive answer to that question and the correct one if you are experiencing paranormal activity. The reality is that first-responders, most commonly the police, are the first ones that receive the call for help. Mental illness, disabilities, and chronic or toxic stress can cause a mental or emotional crisis that requires additional support to manage. Tracy Cook, Public Information Officer for Rangely PD, shared, “No one calls 9-1-1 on the best day. It’s always their worst day.”
Most people have various coping skills that they work through to handle their needs. Common healthy strategies include faith, exercise, hobbies, and circles of secure people. A crisis occurs when these strategies are not sufficient to meet stress levels. Excessive stress on the mind and body can derail healthy coping skills and open opportunities for developing harmful mechanisms. It can take years for a person to find the help they need through legitimate resources.
In a small town like Rangely, people are often isolated from significant stressors that are part of metropolitan areas and often have more visibility within the community to recognize when things are getting complicated. The community can buffer individuals with inclusion and relief. The downside to a small community is the lack of resources available to support someone long-term with difficult circumstances impacting their mental and emotional well-being. During the past week, Rangely Police Department has experienced more than seven crisis calls, including several with suicidal risks. In a small town, that is unusually frequent and alarming. Rangely PD is seeing these crises occur in children to seniors. As economic challenges worsen, the pattern will likely hold across the nation.
Rangely has a few strengths to protect its vulnerable as national and global challenges increase. One of those factors is a highly trained police department. Chief Ti Hamblin has mandated all employees in the Rangely Police Department to participate in Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training, including officers and dispatchers. Dispatchers are often the first contact when a crisis call comes into the department.
“Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) is an innovative first-responder model of police-based crisis intervention with community, health care, and advocacy partnerships.” This intervention model, known as the “Memphis Model,” was designed in 1987 after a specific situation in Memphis, Tennessee, involving a man who had a mental illness and was actively attempting suicide which led to an adverse reaction toward the officers present and ended in the officers using deadly force. Too often, a person experiencing a crisis can appear threatening to another person who does not have the professional tools and understanding to engage with them. Crisis intervention places safety as a top priority and improves outcomes for the individual, the patrol officers, family, and the community.
CIT establishes a foundation in which officers learn to recognize the different signs of mental illness vs. disabilities and provides tools to engage the individual in de-escalation. Once de-escalation is achieved, the officers can help guide the person towards resources to address specific needs. The goal is to have a positive intervention, reduce the risk of harm, and reduce the likelihood of a use-of-force situation. This method reduces the risk of injury to officers and allows them to divert the persons to mental health treatment instead of jail. Supporting and shifting people in crisis leads to constructive and peaceful interactions and resolutions. Rangely Police Department Lieutenant Rich Garner cites this method as the most frequently employed and positive training he uses. These tools are transferable across the duty of responding to various types of other calls.
“This is how important I think this training is. I wear body armor. I carry a gun. I carry a taser. I carry a baton. I have specialized training on how to deal with people. Of all of those things, if I had to go on the street and pick just one thing to get me through a day, [this training] would make the top five for sure, maybe even top two. That’s how valuable it is,” Garner said.
Both Cook and Garner reflected, “Remember, every person you interact with is somebody to someone. They are someone’s mother, father, brother/sister, or child. They matter.”
The Memphis CIT program has been adopted and implemented in more than 2,000 communities in more than 40 states. Many states have implemented it statewide, including Utah, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Ohio, Maine and Connecticut. Its success is primarily attributed to the community partnership that it utilizes. It is a 40-hour program that includes three days of scenario immersion to allow participants to practice CIT skills with engaged feedback from fellow participants. CIT is not a formal mental health treatment and acts as first aid for first responders to use to respond to a crisis call.
The founders include the Memphis Police Department, the Memphis chapter of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI), mental health providers, and two Tennessee universities. The methodology has reviews for its outcomes in various situations, including the officer’s perceptions of the crisis result and the reduction of physical force. In the more than 30 years since its creation and the last five years of progressive implementation, this module has shown to be the most effective in reducing physical harm for all parties involved and increasing safe community connections. At the end of the day, safety is the goal.
By KATIE KING | Special to The Herald Times