Boone County dispatchers get crisis training

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COLUMBIA - Crisis training for emergency dispatchers began Thursday at the Boone County Sheriff's Department. 

The training was focused on ways for dispatchers to handle callers who are in a mental health crisis. 

Laura Heitmann, the community mental health liaison for Arthur Center Community Health, said the training is vital for dispatchers to get and there was an overwhelming response from local dispatchers.

"It is very important for dispatchers to learn how to respond to a person calling in crisis, in a mental health crisis," Heitmann said. "They get a large amount of these calls everyday and it is important for them to be able to recognize when to respond and how to respond." 

Heitmann said dispatchers must know they have the ability to send an officer who is trained by the Crisis Intervention Team to a person having a mental health crisis. 

She said the training covers a general understanding of mental health disorders and issues and how to intervene with a person who is experiencing a suicide crisis.

"It also covers deescalation," Heitmann said. "So how to talk to a person who is escalated and get them to a point where they're able to talk more rationally, provide information that will be useful to those people who were responding." 

Heitmann said trained dispatchers report feeling more competency in handling such calls and "feeling they were able to make an appreciable difference in a mental health crisis like they do in so many of the other events that they have to respond to." 

Boone County Shriff's Department Sergeant Tracey Cleeton said the training is much needed for dispatchers because they are the first line of defense in crisis situations. He said both dispatchers and deputies should have a clear line of communication when handling situations involving mental health. 

This is the first training of this nature in mid-Missouri. The Crisis Intervention Team telecommunications training is offered in both Kansas City and St. Louis as well. 

The two-day training session will finish Friday.