A new law enforcement training program is helping make the community safer, while at the same time helping the mentally ill receive treatment. 54 officers in New Hanover, Pender and Brunswick counties have completed the Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training. The program's goal is to teach officers to protect themselves, the community, and the safety of the mentally ill. Kevin Smith of the WPD said, "We learned to recognize when someone is in a crisis situation with mental health disability and that's valuable on the street." When the officers are called out to a non-violent crime, they now know how to determine if an individual is mentally ill. For example, instead of approaching them with authority, they introduce themselves using their first name, and ask them to talk about what they're going through. Based on the person's behavior, speech, and answers they determine if the person is mentally ill so they can talk with them about seeking treatment. With the new CIT training, law enforcement officers no longer take the mentally ill who commit a crime to jail but to centers like SE Mental Health for treatment." This will reduce the number of people in already overcrowded jails, and reduce the strain on officers. Stan Oathout of the National Alliance on Mental Illness said, “Crime is stopped obviously that's the first thing the situation is de-escalated cause it could turn into a dangerous situation then the person gets treatment and hopefully is returned to the community as a contributing member of the community." If an individual commits a violent crime, mentally ill or not, they will be taken to jail. By next year, more than 100 law enforcement agents in New Hanover, Pender and Brunswick counties will have completed the crisis intervention team training.
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