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Pilot Program Underway To Teach Sheriff’s Deputies How To Identify And Handle Mentally Ill People

By Jeffrey Hess | Published 17 Jul 2012 04:27pm | comments
Tanya Tate

Deputies with the Hinds County Sheriff's Office are learning how to the tell the difference between a criminal and a person with a mental illness. MPB's Jeffrey Hess reports the goal is to get needed medical help for those in need rather than putting them in jail.

8 Hinds County Sheriff's office employees are currently undergoing the week long training that could serve as a model for the rest of the state.

The program is called Crisis Intervention Training and Dana Sims with the Hinds County Sheriff's Office says it is training that is badly needed in the field.

"This is not something that we want, this is something that we need. because one of the things that is prevalent when it comes to public safety is making sure the right people go to jail," Sims said.

Sims says the office looked at its budget and noticed a large portion going to psychiatric care.

"We are a jail. We are not equipped to treat people. We are equipped to hold people," Sims said.

The program is largely voluntary and forms a new partnership between the Sheriff's Office and the University of Mississippi Medical Center which will provide the mental health care.

Deputies often find themselves in high stress situation and it can be challenging for an untrained officer to handle someone with a mental illness says Deputy Keith Roberts.

"You have so much stigma that is attached to the mental illness. It is getting past the stigma they are actually a person. They are actually somebody's child. Treat a person the way you would want to be treated," Roberts said.

Tanya Tate with National Alliance on Mental Illness says law enforcement officers might be the only point of contact between a mentally ill person and needed medical help.

"What we are hoping to bridge the gap is; if the police officers understand and know how to approach a person with a mental illness or can see the signs of a person suffering with a mental illness. That officer, or these set of officers, will be better and more able to help the person that has a mental illness," Tate said.

Tate and others believe the economic recession and the high number of troops returning from war is increasing the prevalence of mental illness.

If the program is successful, supporters say it might be extended to other counties and into the jail system.



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