SANFORD - Eleven law enforcement officers are the latest to graduate from the Lee County Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training program. The officers were presented a certificate that qualifies them to join an elite force committed to the compassionate and humane treatment of every individual in the community. The graduation ceremony was held Friday, Aug. 28, at Central Carolina Community College's Emergency Services Training Center in Sanford.
In his keynote remarks, Sanford Mayor Chet Mann put into perspective the meaning of the important work CIT team members perform.
"When you come to Sanford and Lee County, you find a place that mixes rural charm with urban amenities, a place that embodies the South by being family oriented, slower-paced, and a little reserved--yet that has ready enthusiasm for celebrations and jumps at the opportunity to improve," said Mann. "But while our county still has that 'small town' feel, times have changed. That's where our Crisis Intervention graduates play the starring role in helping us change with those times. Because of you, situations involving mental health disorders don't have to be scary or end violently. People who are in a time of crisis have you to turn to. They don't have to feel alone and powerless. They have an advocate right here in their local law enforcement officers."
The CIT training course, sponsored by Lee County's NC Crisis Intervention Team, represents a major collaborative effort between Central Carolina Community College; LeeCAN - Mental Health Partners; Lee County Public Health Department; Sandhills LME/MCO; Sanford Police Department; Lee County Sheriff's Office; Broadway Police Department; Central Carolina Hospital; Lee Harnett Family Support, NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Health) Cumberland, Harnett and Lee counties; HAVEN in Lee County; Daymark Recovery Services; Mobile Crisis; Lee County Commissioner Kirk Smith, member of the board of directors of Sandhills LME/MCO; local mental health providers, and concerned citizens.
Taught by mental health experts from a variety of fields including substance abuse, psychopharmacology, commitment law, family counseling, personality disorders and others, the 40-hour course includes training in ensuring the safety of individuals with mental health disorders, how to de-escalate volatile situations, special concerns with adolescents, managing stress, mental health emergencies, and more.
"CIT training is a jam-packed week of study and instruction on fundamental mental health issues," said Phil Hewitt, Justice systems Coordinator with Sandhills Center. "Students learn about the diagnoses of mental health disorders such as autism, traumatic brain injuries, and others, as well as the skills they need to de-escalate potentially dangerous situations without using lethal force."
This is the fourth class to graduate from CIT training since the program started in 2012 and the feedback has been very positive, said Lee County Health Director Terrell Jones. Out of nine of the surrounding counties that participate in the program, Lee has consistently been cited as the county with the most successful collaboration among its task force members.
Marilyn Gilliam, chair of the LeeCAN Mental Health Partners Task Force of the Public Health Department, said the CIT program is a response to a definite need in the community. "Every four years, the Public Health Department conducts an assessment to identify the major health problems in the community," she said. "Mental health has always fallen within the top five most challenging issues. This training is a strategic effort to help people in mental crisis, to ensure the safety of our citizens and our law enforcement officers. We can't guarantee that every situation's outcome will be positive, but with this training, our law enforcement agencies have an additional advantage for positive outcomes."
Every person living in the Lee County area has played a role in the county's innovation, resourcefulness, and leadership, said Mann, but none more than the officers who have completed CIT training.
"When you sit down with a person in crisis to help them find peace, see behavior that is a cry for help and respond with kindness, defuse what could be a violent situation, you embody everything this county stands for," Mann said.
Graduates of the spring 2015 Lee County Crisis Intervention Team training include Keiomie Evans, Michael Lankford, Nickolas Taylor, Alvero I. Leighton II, Greg Parker, Kelly Rhyne, Ellmar Benitez, William Roland and Matthew Cotton of the Sanford Police Department; Rich Barefield of the Broadway Police Department, and Terrance Simpson of the Lee County Sheriff's Office.
For more information on the Lee County Crisis Intervention Team training, contact Ashley Graham, MPH of Lee County Public Health Department at 919-718-4640.
Pictured at the graduation of the Lee County Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training program are (left to right), front row: Keiomie Evans, Ellmar Benitez, and Michael Lankford, of the Sanford Police Department; Phil Hewett, of Sandhills Center LME/MCO; Captain Tony Hancox, of the Sanford Police Department; Terrance Simpson, of the Lee County Sheriff's Office; and Sanford Mayor Chet Mann; second row, Nickolas Taylor, Matthew Cotton, Alvero I. Leighton II, Greg Parker, William Roland and Kelly Rhyne, of the Sanford Police Department.