Missoula Crisis Response Team Holds Training Academy

Missoula law enforcement and emergency services personnel received specialized training all week with the final test Friday at the Crisis Response Team’s Mount Jumbo School.

KGVO News was on hand and spoke with CIT program manager Theresa Williams, who described training at the academy.

“Today we have 34 students showing us the skills they learned throughout the week,” Williams said. “So they learn how to protect themselves in a situation, how to be aware of their body language, their tone of voice, and then how to greet someone and work on those initial de-escalation skills?”

The training clearly shows how chaotic a domestic call can be for first responders as they try to defuse the situation.

“These are very high-level crisis situations,” she said. “All of the scenarios involve people with some sort of mental illness. So we have an individual with a diagnosis of schizophrenia. We have a daughter who is also having suicidal thoughts, and we have another situation where a man has stressors about his job, and he is also suicidal. These are people with serious mental illness or just major stressors that clearly show they are in crisis.

Williams acknowledged that police and firefighters are already trained in street situations, but in crisis response training, different skills need to be developed and honed.

“Officers understand that when someone is in crisis, we have to ask them how do we talk to them in a way that will defuse the situation?” she asked. “How are we going to ensure the safety of everyone involved? And how are we going to help that person access the support they need? And that’s why we’re here, and we’re working with our community partners to not only help our law enforcement and our first responders meet people where they are, identify where they’re in crisis, and defuse safely.

Williams described the criteria that will decide whether each participant has passed the training.

“I think for our volunteers who come here today as actors, their alumni and community members, the criteria they’re looking for is ‘would I like this law enforcement person come to my house and defuse my family member? The answer is yes. Then they will pass. In Missoula, we’ve never had anyone who didn’t meet those criteria. The CIT Academy attracts a lot of law enforcement, first responders who have the aptitude for this population, and understanding and compassion for this population.

The CIT Academy takes place once a year and is a collaborative effort comprised of multi-agency CIT coordinators from the Missoula Police Department, Missoula Fire Department, Missoula County Sheriff’s Office, Central Mental Health of Western Montana, Missoula County Detention Center, Partnership Health Center and Providence St. Patrick’s Hospital.

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Richard V. Johnson