Law enforcement crisis training focuses on mental health

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BOONE COUNTY - Mental health was one topic covered at the mid-Missouri Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training course which ended Friday. Fifty law enforcement officers from throughout the state attended the five-day, 40-hour training at the Boone County Sheriff's Department.

The final day of the week-long event included a lecture and four mock scenarios. Trained volunteers acted as individuals with mental heal or other issues and two officers used information provided to them throughout the week to talk to the individual rather than arrest them on the spot.

Sgt. Mike Hestir with Columbia Police Department has been CIT certified for five years and lead the mental health scenario. He said his experience helped him teach other officers how to properly handle situations involving mental health issues. 

"We encounter people at their worst moments," Hestir said. "Often times, we encounter people with mental issues who need different help than being arrested."

Hestir said the public needs to know law enforcement cares about people, and the whole point of the training is to "better serve the citizens by recognizing the difference between a criminal act and criminal tactics, and a person in mental health distress."

He said law enforcement officers are often told to take control of the situation when responding to calls, but they are only in charge of themselves. 

"We realize that some people are in a crisis where we are the first responder, literally, that can help them get back on track," Hestir said. "You see someone who a month ago was really struggling, and you've really helped them to get back to the right resources. That helps every time."

Missouri State Highway Patrol Trooper Brian Geier said he can use the lessons learned every day.

"This training gives more options to the officer and is designed to do so," Geier said. 

The training takes place every year and has helped many officers learn how to manage difficult crises. 

The agencies present include University of Missouri Police Department, Missouri State Highway Patrol, Columbia Police Department, Park Rangers, Capitol City Police Department, Fulton Police Department, Pettis County Police Department, Saline County Police Department, Cole County Police Department, Callaway County Police Department, University Hospital Security and Clark Police Department.

Deputy Tracey Cleeton with Columbia Police Department, who helped plan the training course, said the money came from the Department of Mental Health and went toward paying some officers overtime for attending the course.