It is standard practice among law enforcement agencies to train to the point of competency their respective recruits in the use of those weapons they will carry and be authorized to use in a lawful manner to preserve life and property. All of those weapons are lethal to some degree and I am grateful for the privilege to carry them and the skill to manipulate them in a proper and effective manner. However, the most persuasive weapon every officer carries with them at all times is their tongue (or their voice). Like all weapons, its effectiveness depends solely upon the skill of the operator. And like all weapons, rarely do those skills come without instruction and practice.
Few would argue that the state of mental health in America today is at a tipping point. Gone are the days where police officers simply acted as enforcers of the law, and often enough as deterrents for those considering unlawful behavior. Modern day constables are called upon routinely to serve as mediators, counselors, and psychologists. Confronting suicidal persons and others dealing with mental health crises are no longer rarities, but on par with more traditional aspects of police work.
I am currently in my 6th year of law enforcement as a member of the Harford County Sheriff's Office, four of which I have been certified as a member of the Crisis Intervention Team (CIT). Just eight months graduated from the academy, I came face-to-face with a young man in crisis that did not end well. As a result of the encounter, he lost his life. Reportedly, this young man had been battling symptoms of schizophrenia for quite some time and his alleged use of drugs made the situation even more unpredictable. The night we met, it was reported that he was under the influence of either LSD or some form of synthetic marijuana. Investigators will never know with any certainty due to the copious amounts of blood he lost.
This young man’s death was the impetus for cries of increased mental health training within the ranks of law enforcement and it was what propelled me to become CIT certified. In hindsight, had I been trained in CIT the night of the incident, I am fairly confident that it would not have ended much differently. However, going forward I have found these skills to be invaluable. On many an occasion, I have wielded these skills with great success. They have served me well in talking with adults, teens, and juveniles in some form of mental health crisis. The beauty of these skills is that I have learned to use them not just on crisis-related calls, but in situations where an involved party requires some verbal judo. CIT has indirectly earned me multiple letters of appreciation from the public, while at the same time garnering a supervisor’s recommendation to pursue my agency’s Crisis Negotiation Team. I have been a member of CNT for the past seven months.
The rank and file of law enforcement consists primarily of individuals with Type A personalities, and as you might expect, those personality traits are often on full display when dealing with the public. However, it is incumbent upon each of us to regularly evaluate our respective approaches to doing our jobs, and to make the appropriate adjustments to keep us at the top of our game. This is what I did by adding CIT and it has served me well. We are called to serve and protect the communities in which we live and work. And sometimes serving the public means nothing more than lending a listening ear to the person in mental crisis. Oftentimes, all they need to is someone to just sit there and listen to their problems, their struggles, their hopes, their fears.
In my short time as a member of the law enforcement community, I have come to realize that police work is not always about making traffic stops and making arrests and conducting investigations. Much of the time it is about the intangibles – making people feel safe and giving them hope. The former can be accomplished by your presence and the latter just by listening.
King Solomon wrote in Proverbs 25:11, “Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in right circumstances.” Get some of that gold and silver; get CIT certified!