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DCSO to prioritize crisis intervention training

Law enforcement officers recently participated in CIT training at Flint Hills. The officers were trained in scenarios using real-life actors portraying someone in a mental health crisis. (Star Gazette photo by Michelle Wirth)1 / 2
Law enforcement officers recently participated in CIT training at Flint Hills. The officers were trained in scenarios using real-life actors portraying someone in a mental health crisis. (Star Gazette photo by Michelle Wirth)2 / 2

A female is sitting on a bridge, out on a ledge that is about six feet beyond a gate. With no way of physically getting to her, how would an officer react?

Amber Hentges, a detective at the Dakota County Sheriff's Office, recently went through Crisis Intervention Training. As part of the training, she was required to participate in a scenario with professional actors.

During the bridge scenario, she had to talk to the female actor, establish a rapport with her, gain her confidence and keep her engaged. The actors made the scenario feel like reality, Hentges said.

"You could see it in her face, you could see it in her eyes — she was talking about the loss of a child and because of that her marriage was falling apart," Hentges said.

Hentges, who already has 20 years of experience, said that she learned a lot from the training and it is something she wished she had gone through earlier in her career. She said the training gave her insight into the different types of mental illness and is something that will better enable her to deal with those kinds of situations.

The Dakota County Sheriff's Office currently has 15 people who have gone through the training. They have a plan to train about 72 more people within the next three years. Patrick Enderlein, a captain at the Dakota County Sheriff's Office, said that the office has a three-year plan to get all licensed staff through the rank of sergeant trained with CIT.

Dakota County Sheriff Tim Leslie said that the hope is that this will be a step in the right direction toward giving deputies a greater understanding of what they may face out in the field.

"We want to make sure that the deputies have as much training and understanding and compassion for the mentally ill and how they deal with them," Leslie said.

Jerry Hutchinson, the Minnesota CIT training director, said that CIT involves 40 hours of intense training. It is intense because the officers are not only being educated in a classroom setting, but they are also required to practice what they learn.

"We make them practice what we preach," Hutchinson said.

Scenario training is a big part of the program. Participants still have some lecture where they learn about mental health symptoms, signs, medications and more; however, they also participate in live scenarios with professional actors.

"I think it's very lifelike. I think the officers who have taken our classes say that the actors make it so real and they almost forget that they are roleplaying," Hutchinson said.

The actors, who are trained by MN CIT, simulate individuals with PTSD, TBI, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or some other kind of psychosis. Based on the way the participants handle the role playing situation, the actors will react in a negative or positive way. Coaches are present during the scenario to help guide the students and conduct a debriefing following the scenario.

Once 40 hours of training have been completed, officers become certified as crisis intervention training officers. Trained officers receive a special pin that they could wear on their uniform signifying that they are CIT certified. In the Dakota County Sheriff's Office, however, the pins are not considered part of the official uniform. Hentges said that she hopes to get the pin approved to wear on uniforms.

As for the training itself, "it was really good tools for our toolbox, I'd say," she said.

Michelle Wirth

Michelle Wirth graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in 2013 with a degree in journalism and web design. She worked as a web content editor for a trade association before coming to the Hastings Star Gazette in 2016.

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