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Nine graduate from Crisis Intervention Training

Meridian Star - 2/10/2024

Feb. 10—Local law enforcement will be more prepared to handle calls involving individuals in mental health crisis after nine officers on Friday graduated from the East Mississippi Crisis Intervention Team Training.

The officers, who represent five different agencies, received 40 hours of instruction on a variety of topics including medications, substance abuse, mental health disorders and more. They were also trained in de-escalation and had the opportunity to hear from people who have experienced mental health crises first hand.

Retired Meridian Police Department Capt. Wade Johnson, who serves as the training coordinator for the East Mississippi Crisis Intervention Team, said CIT officers are also exposed to a simulation that helps them understand the mindset of a paranoid schizophrenic, get training in basic mental health care and are introduced to some of the resources in the local community for people with mental health needs.

Prior to the CIT team, Johnson said, there wasn't a good system to divert those needing mental health care toward the treatment they need. Through building the partnerships with various organizations and training officers from throughout the state, officers are able to divert Meridianites experiencing a mental health crisis away from jails and into facilities more suited to their needs.

"For years, and years, and years, and years before we began this partnership, we did our best to deal with those folks, trying to bring them to services," he said. "But a lot of times the only safe place we could take them would be jail."

Residents have also taken note of the CIT officers, who are given a pin to wear on their uniform signifying they have passed the CIT training. Johnson said residents with mental health issues see those pins and understand that the officer wearing it may be able to help.

Sheriff Ward Calhoun, who serves as the project coordinator for the CIT Program, said the program stands out as a source of pride over his career in law enforcement. The program, he said, works.

"I know that it makes a difference in our community, and I know that it can make a difference in a lot of communities," he said. "I'm proud that we, right here in Lauderdale County, are able to provide the training to other agencies all across the state."

CIT officers are sent to deal with some of the most vulnerable people, Calhoun said, and they are tasked with helping those people get the resources they need. While a single officer can't solve everything, he said, they can make a big difference in the life of the person in front of them.

"I think that for all of us as law enforcement officers, when we come to the end of our career we want to know that we lived our life with some purpose and some meaning and that we've done our absolute best," he said. "I believe that CIT will now help you to do your best as a law enforcement officer in whatever jurisdiction you are serving."

Graduating from CIT training were:

—Matthew Atchison — Meridian Community College Police

—Christopher Fairchild — Kemper County Sheriff's Office

—Brian Fortenberry — Lauderdale County Sheriff's Office

—Paris Griffin — Meridian Police Department

—Leslie Hagwood — Lauderdale County Sheriff's Office

—Vernice Haddox — Meridian Police Department

—Adam Joe — Philadelphia Police Department

—Frederick Newell — Meridian Police Department

—Justin Wyatt — Philadelphia Police Department

Contact Thomas Howard at thoward@themeridianstar.com

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