SEBRING— Highlands County Sheriff Susan Benton has kicked off a two-year initiative to train law enforcement and detention deputies in crisis intervention techniques.
Kirk Fasshauer, director of crisis services at the Peace River Center, and deputy Mark Smith of the Polk County Sheriff’s Office will conduct the training, which will include classroom sessions and a behind-the-scenes tour of the Peace River Crisis Center in Bartow.
Members will also participate in some hands-on experiences that will simulate what goes on in the minds of crisis victims.
During the 40-hour training, participants will visit mental health partner facilities in Highlands County and become familiar with the resources available at South Florida State College in Avon Park.
Highlands County Sheriff’s Office Director of Training, deputy Nick Kent, explained that crisis intervention training, as presented by the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, follows what is known as the “Memphis Model” because it was developed in Memphis, Tenn.
“After a rise in violent encounters that were subsequently learned to have a mental illness component, a study was conducted that revealed the suspects were ‘acting out’ in ways that appeared criminal but were often related to circumstances beyond their control,” the sheriff’s office says.
“The study also showed that when trained personnel were deployed to these scenes, often the suspects could be ‘talked down’ to a degree that kept violent encounters at a minimum,” Kent said.
Many Florida agencies use the Memphis Model for training deputies in dealing with mental issues in people.
It involves two 20-hour segments - one explains psychological conditions and terms, which will assist deputies in recognizing when someone may be suffering from these issues.
The second deals with an officer’s safety and is taught by current law enforcement officers.
“Ideally, this training will provide the tools for effective interaction between the criminal justice system and mental health care,” the sheriff’s office said.
“However, when arrest is the proper outcome and a subject is detained, deputies will also be educated on how to evaluate the subject for possible alternatives to prosecution such as enrollment in pretrial intervention programs that are already in place at the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office. “
The Polk County Sheriff’s Office conducts crisis intervention training programs every quarter.
Highlands County will get five spots in each of these programs and conduct a session a year for Highlands County employees, where as many as 30 deputies could attend, here in Sebring.
Benton’s initial goal is to have at least one sergeant and one deputy on each squad in both law enforcement and detention divisions trained during the first two-year phase.
Her ultimate goal is to train all sworn members in crisis intervention.
“Obviously, this will be an ongoing initiative due to the number of members who will need this training and the limited opportunity for seats in the program,” the sheriff’s office says.
Benton is pleased this training has begun.
“Our deputies come into contact with hundreds of people throughout their careers, and many of whom may suffer from some type of mental health issue. Being able to detect this possibility and proceed accordingly will enhance the safety of these people as well as our deputies in these situations,” she said. “We want to keep the public safe but at the same time we want to address the mental health issues to reduce reoccurring encounters. Any additional tools we have at our disposal to deal with these situations can only be helpful.”