Danville Police Department Lt. Richard Chivvis said the first couple days of his Crisis Intervention Team training two years ago with the Danville-Pittsylvania Community Services was “eye opening.”
At that time, he learned about the history of mental illness and some of the mental disorders people can suffer. But the biggest effect, he said, came from listening to firsthand sufferers of a mental health crisis or their family members.
“That was probably the best part of the training,” he said.
Danville-Pittsylvania Community Services has been training first responders in crisis intervention and de-escalation techniques since 2013, said Melanie Tosh, the group’s director of adult clinical services. Since then, the program has trained more than 400 people.
The Danville Police Department has been trying to get every sworn officer through CIT training since the beginning.
So far, 118 officers have gone through CIT training, with more to come, notes Sgt. Stan Moorefield, a member of the department’s services and training division.
“By the end of the week, 100% of DPD officers will be CIT certified,” he said.
Each session of the program lasts five days, with each day consisting of eight hours of class instruction. The class is geared toward law enforcement, but other such first responders as emergency medical services, firefighters or even security officers can take the course.
“We try to include other first responders as well,” Tosh said.
The program has multiple goals, Tosh said, but is mostly based around training first responders how to better service those experiencing a mental health issue and to build relationships between different agencies.
“We offer strategies for interacting with counseling individuals to de-escalate a crisis and connect them to mental health services,” she said. “It’s also to build a team to better serve those who may be experiencing a mental health crisis.”
The training also incorporates exercises such as roleplay scenarios, Tosh said, with a focus on real-world scenarios that first responders may encounter on their day-to-day jobs. The number of scenarios fluctuates depending on how many participants are in the course. Tosh said there is normally an average of 18 role-play scenarios a week.
“A big chunk of training has to do with scenarios,” Tosh explained. “Students practice implementing skills from the scenarios.”
One scenario that is used is a “voices” scenario. Students will wear earphones that play voices, while they fulfill everyday tasks such as filling out job applications or completing crossword puzzles.
“We try to help students understand what it may be like to experience the symptom of active hallucinations,” she said, “which would help them be more empathetic to someone experiencing that symptom.”
Students also go on “site visits” that bring awareness to some of the available mental health services in the Danville community, that participants can refer others to. These sites include Sovah Health-Danville, the psycho-social rehab services division of the Danville-Pittsylvania Community Services, and the group’s day support services.
Chivvis went on to say the program is a success, and the police department will continue to use it.
“It was definitely worthwhile,” he said. “We are committed to the program — it’s very beneficial.”
Moorefield also considered the program a success, and credited the Danville- Pittsylvania Community Services with increasing the relationship between the mental health field and first responders in the area.
“Without the partnership with the DCPS and the community, this program would not be what it is today,” Moorefield said as he looked over to Tosh. “It’s really strengthened the relationship between mental health services and first responders.”
Avent is a reporter with the Danville Register & Bee. Reach him at (434) 797-7983.