BRUNSWICK COUNTY, NC (WECT) – More than two dozen local police officers are now better prepared to handle situations involving people with mental illnesses.
It's an issue that we've reported on several times recently; since an officer from Southport, Detective Bryon Vassey, shot and killed a teenager who suffered from a schizophrenic episode.
Local authorities say they want to learn how to bring those situations to successful endings.
Each police chief in Brunswick County chooses officers in their department to take part in a 40 hour, Crisis Intervention Training offered by CoastalCare and the National Alliance in Mental Illness (NAMI).
A group of 25 police officers graduated from that program on Friday. When we attended the ceremony, some officers admitted that at first, they didn't want to take part in the training.
"It wasn't voluntary - they just picked us, so I was like fine I'll go and we walked in, 40 hours of classroom time and were not excited about it but I'm glad I was chosen to come," said Angela King, a Sergeant from the Ocean Isle Beach Police Department
The "students" spent 40 hours learning how to deal with real-life, stressful situations involving people with mental illnesses. King has been a law enforcement officer for more than 18 years, but says she's never taken a training course like this.
"You see how suicide goes up or depression kicks in because they live that daily and it opened my eyes," said King.
The training course aims to give law enforcement the knowledge and resources they need to assist a person who is in crisis – with an emphasis on treatment rather than jail time.
"As law enforcement officers, we only see black and white. Citizens don't see a compassionate side in us," said King. "But, this way we're able to take time to know what the people are going through because we have seen and heard what they're going through."
The C.I.T. course is a type of training that has proven to keep citizens and officers from being injured in the line of duty. It also decreases arrest rates of people with mental illness which ultimately reduces the costs to the criminal justice system in our community.
The next Crisis Intervention Training event is next month in Wrightsville Beach. However, that class is already full. Officials from CoastalCare are hosting a series of C.I.T. courses each month throughout the summer, including a special course for school resource officers in June.
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