PAUL SMITHS – Four police officers, two from Saranac Lake and two from Malone, completed training designed to improve their interactions with people with mental health issues, addictions or emotional crises on Friday. Officers said they learned a lot from the program and plan to bring their new knowledge back to their services.
Training for the Crisis Response Team was included in the Saranac Lake and Malone Police Reform Plans passed earlier this year and was funded by the State Senate through the Bureau state mental health.
Don Kamin, director of the Institute for Police, Mental Health and Community Collaboration, has been leading this training program for seven years now.
“It was the best class,” Kamin said, partly as a joke.
He said the Saranac Lake and Malone officers were genuinely interested and wanted to be there, which is not always the case in his experience training officers in the state. He also said it was the first time that a director of local community services had sat during the entire training week.
Franklin County Community Services Director Suzanne Lavigne said she was “Excited” on training.
Kamin said that in the event of a mental health crisis, it is best to respond with a mental health expert. A pilot
Counselor and Law Enforcement Partnership, or CALEP, the village started last month and is integrating a therapist into the SLPD to help with mental health and addiction appeals, but when not available, Kamin said the police should also be trained to help.
The goal of these trainings is to teach communication and de-escalation skills like listening, empathy and diversion, Kamin said.
In these situations he said that the “command and control” The method taught to officers at the police academy is not the best method.
If someone is suffering from paranoid delusions, it is not best to convince them that this is not happening, he said. Better to build relationships with them.
Research shows that CIT-trained officers have more skills, use less force, and divert people they interact with from the criminal justice system and into mental health resources more often, he said.
Kamin said putting someone in jail can sometimes perpetuate the problem.
“Now this is not a free prison release card” “ he added. “But a lot of times, if it’s obvious their emotional state or mental illness is what is going on, let’s go to the root cause.”
“This is what the community wants and we strive to work better with the community”, Malone Police Department chief Christopher Premo said.
Cheektowaga Police Department Chief Brian Gould also led the training.
Saranac Lake Police Department officer Thomas Lauzon said he volunteered for the training because he previously worked at Sunmount, a state office for people with developmental disabilities in Tupper Lake. He has experience working with people with mental illnesses and wanted to apply this to his new job.
He said it’s “very common” to be called for a situation that is not criminal, but emotional or mental.
“We have a lot of people with mental illness in Saranac Lake and I like to see that there is a different approach where we can help these people,” Aaron Sharlow, an SLPD officer for two and a half years, said. “We have dealt with people who are in severe emotional distress.”
“They are having a bad day” said Lauzon.
The two said they were happy to have Community Connections of Franklin County, a county mental health branch, in the trainings.
Now they have a place to refer people in crisis to more services, rather than just leaving because there is no crime.
The two also said they would bring the skills they learned to the rest of their agents in the department.
Lauzon, who has been in the department for a year and a half, said they all had insight into crisis response in the academy, but the CIT training “Is better than what we get at the academy”, because they have real life experience to apply the skills to now.
“It kind of puts the training into reality” Sharlow said.
Sharlow said the lesson that struck him the most was tone of voice.
“The same statement can mean two different things just by the tone of your voice” he said. “It’s a great thing to just be patient.”
Lauzon said it is important to be “Understanding of their situation”.
James Underwood-Miller, a Citizen Advocates advisor who also attended the trainings, leads the new CALEP program in Saranac Lake, which has received high praise from law enforcement and mental health professionals.
“It’s the best thing we’ve had in a while,” said Lauzon.
Lavigne said the program was “phenomenal.”
Underwood-Miller said he has had an average of one call per day since the program began at Saranac Lake in early September. He said sometimes he saw people “The worst days of their life” and manages drug addiction, suicidal ideation or mental health crisis, concurrent with or after law enforcement.
He said the aim was to prevent law enforcement from getting involved again. He said that a CALEP style program is not available in many places, but it is needed everywhere.
Lavinge said the county mental health office is working in partnership with local police departments, St. Joseph’s addiction treatment and recovery centers, citizen advocates and Franklin County community connections.
Lavinge said Citizen Advocates is trying to expand the program to Malone and is funding the effort itself.