In Southern Maryland, police officers are receiving specialized training to effectively handle mental health crises. With mental illnesses affecting a significant portion of the population, law enforcement officers are frequently encountering individuals in distress. Through the Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) program, officers are equipped with the necessary skills to de-escalate situations and ensure the safety of all involved parties.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), more than one in five adults in the United States live with a mental illness. Among them, approximately one in twenty-five adults suffer from serious mental illnesses, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depression. Recognizing the prevalence of these conditions, law enforcement agencies in Southern Maryland have taken proactive measures to address the unique challenges presented by mental health emergencies.
The CIT program, implemented in Southern Maryland, aims to provide officers with the tools to assess and respond to individuals in crisis. Captain David Yingling, a CIT trainer and Commander of the St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Office Administrative Division, emphasized the vulnerability of many people suffering from mental illness, often lacking support systems. CIT training seeks to bridge this gap by fostering officers’ understanding of mental illness and its effects, enabling them to intervene in a compassionate manner.
Officers in Southern Maryland undergo an extensive 40-hour CIT program, supplementing the eight hours of training received at the Southern Maryland Criminal Justice Academy. The St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Office has been at the forefront of this initiative since 2010, with 126 deputies and correctional officers successfully completing the CIT training to date. Additionally, seventeen officers from the agency have been certified as CIT instructors. The course draws instructors from the sheriff’s offices of Calvert, Charles, and St. Mary’s County, pooling their expertise to provide comprehensive training.
The ultimate goal of the CIT program is to divert individuals in crisis away from the criminal justice system and towards appropriate medical treatment and stabilization. By teaching officers to de-escalate situations and recognize the signs of mental health emergencies, the program aims to minimize the risk of violence and injury to all parties involved. This approach represents a significant shift from traditional methods that often led to individuals being taken into custody and placed in jail.
Alexis Higdon, Community Mental Health Liaison, highlights the importance of recognizing mental health concerns within the law enforcement profession itself. Officers are not only trained to identify warning signs in others but also to address their own mental well-being. Higdon draws attention to the high incidence of traumatic experiences officers encounter during their shifts, urging them to seek support and communicate with their colleagues.
Captain Yingling emphasizes the collaborative nature of law enforcement, urging officers to recognize the significance of teamwork. “We have got to stop being alone,” he asserts. Acknowledging that accomplishments are rarely achieved in isolation, Captain Yingling emphasizes the importance of seeking assistance when needed. By fostering a supportive and communicative environment, law enforcement agencies can better address the challenges of the profession and ensure the well-being of their officers.
The success of the CIT program in Southern Maryland serves as a testament to the commitment of law enforcement agencies in providing effective responses to mental health crises. By equipping officers with the necessary knowledge and skills, communities can foster a more compassionate and understanding approach to individuals in need. As the program continues to expand and more officers receive CIT training, Southern Maryland is setting an example for other regions to prioritize mental health within law enforcement and create safer and more empathetic communities for all.