Sponsored By
An organization or individual has paid for the creation of this work but did not approve or review it.

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Mental illness focus of law enforcement training

The woman in the purple sweater paced back and forth on a pile of crumpled newspapers, cussing and squirting herself with a bottle of gasoline. She said her name was Flash, and she threatened to light herself on fire. Moorhead police Officer Jeff...

The woman in the purple sweater paced back and forth on a pile of crumpled newspapers, cussing and squirting herself with a bottle of gasoline.

She said her name was Flash, and she threatened to light herself on fire.

Moorhead police Officer Jeff Nelson tried to talk her into putting down the lighter, but she refused.

Eventually, he got her to open up about "the voices" that made her head hurt, and how she usually took medicine to quiet them.

But when Nelson asked what medicine she needed, her response raised a red flag: Demerol, Vicodin, Oxycontin - all painkillers.

ADVERTISEMENT

Was she mentally ill? A drug addict just trying to score? Or both?

Actually, she was a professional actor from the Twin Cities.

Over the past four days, such role-playing exercises taught 30 law enforcement officers from Cass and Clay counties how to recognize mental illness and verbally defuse situations involving those who suffer from it.

The 40-hour training course by the Minnesota Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Officer's Association was the first of its kind in the Fargo-Moorhead area.

Donna Fox, CIT training director, said Minnesota law enforcement schools require only six hours or less of mental health awareness training.

"So, we're trying to fill that gap, because they're the ones out there first on the scene, and they have no special training in it," she said.

Trainees heard from expert speakers on mental illness topics ranging from elderly and adolescent issues to reintegration of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, "which is a really big issue right now," Fox said.

The training, funded with a $21,000 grant from the Minnesota Department of Human Services, also brought together officers and mental health consumers to share their experience with each other.

ADVERTISEMENT

The first CIT program was formed in Memphis, Tenn., in 1988, and similar programs have since spread across the nation.

The Minnesota team has provided training in Bemidji, Thief River Falls and Worthington, among other cities, Fox said.

Those who complete the course become association members and receive a uniform pin identifying them as CIT-certified.

Officers from Moorhead, Fargo, West Fargo, Clay County, Hawley, Minn., Lake Park, Minn., and the Minnesota Department of Corrections took part in the training.

Red River Regional Dispatch Center staff also participated and will now be able to dispatch CIT officers to situations where they're needed, Fox said.

Nelson, a school resource officer in Moorhead, said the training was realistic for officers who have recurring dealings with people with mental illness.

"Now, we're kind of looking beyond just the appearance and we're looking more for the root of what's causing this," he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528

Related Topics: MOORHEAD
What To Read Next
Nonprofit hospitals are required to provide free or discounted care, also known as charity care; yet eligibility and application requirements vary across hospitals. Could you qualify? We found out.
Columnist Carol Bradley Bursack explains the differences between Alzheimer's, dementia and other common forms of dementia.
While the United States government gave help to businesses and people, a lack of assistance has left some Chinese citizens angry and destitute.
Having these procedures available closer to home will make a big difference for many in the region.