A unified approach to solving mental health-related crises will take shape through a new Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) program for Northeast Missouri law enforcement, emergency responders and mental health providers.

A unified approach to solving mental health-related crises will take shape through a new Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) program for Northeast Missouri law enforcement, emergency responders and mental health providers.

Saints Avenue Regional CIT Council Co-chair Jessica Baker said the training session will bring everyone together to “bridge the gap between law enforcement and mental health providers,” connecting officials with the resources and tools they need to de-escalate a situation involving a person with a specific mental health condition. The training will be conducted by volunteer trainers with the Saints Avenue CIT Council — which covers Clark, Lewis, Marion, Monroe, Ralls, Pike and Shelby counties — and Baker said council representatives are seeking additional officers and responders to join the team effort.

Baker said officers will learn through volunteer presentations and hands-on projects how to connect a citizen with the right providers, noting that counties that make up the Saints Avenue Regional CIT Council are rural, with some law enforcement agencies patrolling with limited staff. She said that using de-escalation techniques and finding the trained professional at any time of the day helps boost efficiency for law enforcement officials, so they can return to patrol duties more quickly. So far, more than 7,200 officers have received CIT training through 26 local CIT councils statewide — including two officers with the LaGrange Police Department.

Co-chair and LaGrange Police officer Brian Hooley said a key goal for the five-day, 40-hour training session is to help people with mental health conditions break free from “the ever-continuing criminal justice cycle” and receive the specialized help they need.

“It really helps train the officer in de-escalation techniques, so that uses of force go down,” Hooley said. “Less people get hurt, to include officers and citizens, and to help anyone in a mental health crisis get to the proper providers that they need to meet with.”

Baker said the training will include a panel featuring people living with mental or behavioral health conditions or substance use issues. The panelists will talk with everyone about their individual stories and interactions they might have had with law enforcement officials in the past.

Hooley echoed Baker's sentiment that the training session will help participants connect with area resources and establish relationships between mental health providers and law enforcement agencies — two entities that haven't always worked together closely in the past. He said that de-escalation techniques and initial contact takes a bit longer for the officers, but he said the overall duration for each incident “has drastically been reduced,” because the officer knows which specific provider can provide help.

“In law enforcement, we're realizing that mental health and behavioral health is not as taboo as it used to be,” Hooley said. “It is legitimate. It's something that needs to be addressed, and we really need to help our citizens that we serve.”

Baker said the CIT training satisfies the 40-hour Peace Officer Standards and Training requirements for Missouri law enforcement officials, and the session will include a self-care section geared toward helping officers cope with traumatic situations they face in the line of duty.

To join the session or receive more information, please contact Baker at 573-629-2001 or jbaker@pfh.org or Sergeant Jeremy Romo at 314-581-5459 or JFRomo@stlouisco.com .

Reach reporter Trevor McDonald at trevor.mcdonald@courierpost.com