READY TO HELP: Crisis training program graduates eight officers
Published 6:00 am Friday, February 10, 2023
NATCHEZ — Eight officers including five from Adams County Sheriff’s Office, two from Natchez Police Department and one from Port Gibson Police Department received their Crisis Intervention Team certification on Friday after completing an entire week — 40 hours — of training.
These officers are Geneva Bacon, Charles Clemons, Gabrielle Knight, Quierra Pointer, and Lane Vestal of Adams County Sheriff’s Office; Henry Johnson and Michelle Martin of Natchez Police Department; and Russell Dorsey of Port Gibson Police Department.
It was the first training of its kind to be organized and hosted by Southwest Mississippi Mental Health. The training took place at the Adams County Safe Room at 323 Liberty Road last week. Their training ended with a graduation Friday, Feb. 3, where each officer received their CIT officer designation with identifying pins and shirts so they would be easy to identify by those who need them.
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The special guest speaker for the graduation was Sitanel Wimbley, the Executive Director of the Mississippi Chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Health and a Natchez native.
She described the definition of a hero — a person of courage, honor and self-sacrifice — and how it applies to police officers. She shared that it was her older brother who about three years ago attempted to break into the Adams County Jail in order to be arrested and take shelter there because he was told that they could not keep him there unless he was arrested.
“I do what I do because I know how this goes. I know people who struggle in this community because I grew up in this community. I grew up on West Steirs Lane,” she said. “Knowing that, knowing the situation he went through, I thought to myself where are the heroes who know about mental health? Where are the people who can step up and say, ‘This is weird behavior; who wants to go into the jail?’ But we didn’t have anyone who was signed up on paper as a mental health advocate.”
Crisis Intervention Team training equips law enforcement to address behavioral and mental health needs when they respond to calls in their communities, said CIT Coordinator Mike Bowman.
“We gave them a quick intro to mental health conditions, such as dementia and all of these things. We covered how to de-escalate a situation and the resources that are available to them,” Bowman said.
One resource that will be available soon to law enforcement and the general public in the Natchez community was announced during Friday’s graduation celebration.
Southwest announced an upcoming grand opening of two “Turning Point” centers that will be open 24-7 for a single point of entry for assessment, triage and referrals for those in a mental health crisis.
One will be located at the new Natchez campus at 150 Jefferson Davis Blvd. and the other at 110 Franklinton Street in Tylertown.
A grand opening for the Natchez location is scheduled from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Feb. 27.
“It’s set up like a living room environment with two beautiful recliners. The whole idea is to calm them and determine the most appropriate level of care for them,” said Margo Brooks, the director of administrative services.
Referrals to these centers can be made by law enforcement, first responders, families and any other community partners, she said.
“The goal of this program, Turning Point, is to reduce the number of those individuals who suffer from a mental health crisis from being involved in the criminal justice system or placed in the state mental health hospitals,” Brooks said. “We have an urgent need and mandate to reduce the number of people going to jail for their mental health crisis and from going to the state hospital. You’ve been trained to help us meet that goal and we’re counting on you. You all have earned your status as CIT officers. Now help us better serve our communities.”
Other such training programs will be hosted by Southwest Mississippi Mental Health at various locations throughout the organization’s 9 county service area. Another training is scheduled for Feb. 13 through 17 in McComb. The training is free to all law enforcement officers and departments interested in attending. They can register by calling (601) 551-4581 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Interim Natchez Police Chief Cal Green said it’s a goal of hers to have all NPD officers receive their CIT training to meet the needs of the community.