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Cops, mental health pros join forces

Law enforcement and mental health officials alike speak with police officers from all over Carbon County. This past week, at Crisis Intervention Team Training took center stage at Price City Hall as mental health and law enforcement officials learned to play for the same team.
Salt Lake City Det. Ron Bruno discusses the program with Price Police Sgt. Bill Barnes

Sun Advocate reporter

If necessity is the mother of strange bedfellows, Utah police agencies and their mental health counterparts may have found a match made in heaven. For the first time in the state of Utah, law enforcement officers and mental health officials are working as a team to serve and protect the public while providing assistance for those with complex, dangerous and often times perplexing issues.

This past week, officers from police departments all over Carbon County participated in Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training and certification at Price's City Hall. The training, put on by Salt Lake PD officials and mental health professionals, brings police together with local mental health resources and provides them with the knowledge to de-escalate many mental illness related issues with tactics other than force.

"This training has provided our officers with a new empathetic approach to situations which could include a factor related to mental health," explained Price City Police Sgt. and region CIT facilitator Bill Barnes. "The CIT training provides several techniques for safer intervention concerning the person experiencing a mental health crisis, their family and the community as a whole."

According to Barnes, this program is a statewide initiative that builds strong working partnerships between law enforcement agencies and the mental health resources they utilize. These partnerships bring law enforcement and mental health services together instead of working independently on mental health issues.

Locally, this partnership boils down to city and county departments working closely with Four Corners Community Behavioral Health.

"Four Corners Executive Director Jan Bodily and Price's Police Chief Alec Shilaos have been incredibly supportive of this training and this program," stated Barnes. "Their close working relationship and partnership will provide meaningful dividends as officers put this training to use in the community."

To demonstrate his point, Barnes remarked that just two days after the training was complete, the Price PD made two separate referrals in the course of a single day between a mentally ill individual, members of their family and four corners.

The Carbon County regional facilitators for the CIT program include Barnes, Price Officer Susan Hyde, Registered Nurse Robin Potochnik and local Therapist Pat Wilson.

While the first goal of the CIT program is to provide officers with the necessary skills to intervene in these tense situations, the second goal works to establish a system which makes the law enforcement officer a "team member," working with mental health to determine the best way to move forward with a given individual.

"Instead of working independently, our law enforcement teams will be working with mental health resources to find more appropriate and long term solutions for those with problematic issues," explained Barnes. "The bottom line is that this training provides law enforcement officers with options for dealing with the most difficult of situations, situations which happen more often than some might think. This training is already helping immensely."

Mental health officials and those associated with the local chapter of the National Association for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) have stated that they are just as pleased with this the training and program as those in law enforcement.

"This partnership is truly historic," said Stella Smith of Castle Country NAMI. "I enjoyed participating in the training and hope my story helped to combat the stigma associated with mental illness and shed some light on what caretakers of the mentally ill go through."

Both Barnes and Smith discussed the possibility this training presents concerning keeping the mentally ill out of lock up and in treatment where many of them belong.

"More appropriate and long term solutions will now be our goal when it comes to calls that involve a person who may be experiencing a mental crisis," concluded Barnes. "We are ready to work as a team with those at Four Corners to make sure the public is protected and that those who need assistance, get it."

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