Crisis intervention training underway in Johnson County

Police, first responders taking part in weeklong program

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IOWA CITY — By the end of the week, more than 60 law enforcement officials and first responders are going to be trained in crisis intervention.

The inaugural session of the Johnson County Crisis Intervention Team Training kicked off Monday morning at Saint Patrick’s Church in Iowa City. In addition to officers from Johnson County and around the state, observers from behavioral health services also were in attendance, bringing the total up to 100 participants.

During the first day of the 40-hour training, officials stressed the importance of learning how to better respond to people dealing with mental health or substance abuse issues.

“You’re going to get a better understanding of mental illness,” said University of Iowa Police Capt. Mark Bullock. “You’re going to be able to tailor your responses … to that individual. There is no algorithm. You use these techniques and you figure out what fits that person.”

The training is to cover various mental health conditions, homeless issues and substance abuse problems and teach participants how to respond to people experiencing those issues. Much of the instruction is being provided by area police officers and deputies who have gone through the training in San Antonio, which Johnson County Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek called the “gold standard,” of crisis intervention training.

Johnson County deputy Brandon Richmond, who previously underwent crisis intervention training in Texas and is providing instruction this week on active listening and hospital procedures, said he is pleased to see so many officers taking part in the training. He said crisis intervention training can be applied to all aspects of police work.

“This is all about giving us more tools on our tool belt,” he said.

San Antonio police officer Joe Smarro, who is on hand this week to help facilitate the training, said participants and the community should expect “positive outcomes” from the training. Smarro said the benefits of crisis intervention training depend on how invested each individual is in the instruction, but he said everyone should get something out of it.

“By Friday, we really do see a turnout with people advocating for training and wanting more training,” he said.

Johnson County Sheriff’s Office Major Steve Dolezal told the participants crisis intervention training is a lot like firearms training — you learn the basic principles, how to do it safely and what to do if there’s a problem. The result, he said, would be fewer injuries to officers and civilians, less use of force, less time spent in emergency rooms and fewer repeat calls for service for the same individuals.

Dr. Azeemuddin Ahmed, a clinical professor in the University of Iowa Department of Emergency Medicine, acknowledges that most police officers probably didn’t go into that profession to become health care providers, but that’s what they are now.

“You are now considered health care providers for these patients,” Ahmed said. “This is truly a way to serve and protect these vulnerable members of this community. We are all in this together.”

Scott Stevens, the Iowa City Police Department’s domestic violence investigator, was among those who jumped at the opportunity to participate in this week’s training. Stevens said the nature of his role in the department means he’s frequently encountering people who are in some stage of a crisis. Stevens said he’s excited to learn about new skills and resources for his job and about the prospects of officers across the county receiving the same training.

“We’re all going to be learning the same language and talking on the same level,” he said.

l Comments: (319) 398-8238; lee.hermiston@thegazette.com

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