SANFORD - Nineteen public safety personnel recently graduated from the Lee County Crisis Intervention Team training program, an initiative cosponsored by Central Carolina Community College to help area officers deal effectively and compassionately with people experiencing a mental health crisis.
The fifth-annual graduation ceremony was held on Aug. 19 at CCCC's Emergency Services Training Center in Sanford.
"There's an old adage that says experience is the best teacher," said Sanford Mayor Pro Tem Sam Gaskins, guest speaker for the celebration. "But these are the types of situations where you really want someone who already knows what to do and how to do it well.
"There may not be a second chance."
During the 40-hour course, professionals from a variety of disciplines taught officers how to de-escalate volatile situations, manage stress and deal with common mental health disorders.
Graduates retain their current jobs. But when a crisis arises involving people with mental illness, developmental disabilities or substance abuse, they switch to a specialist role to help resolve the situation. Crisis intervention teams within law enforcement agencies work to reduce injuries, reduce the need to call in Special Weapons and Tactics teams and help people with mental illness stay out of jail and get the treatment they need.
Having that expertise available around the clock is extremely important, according to Marilyn Gilliam, training director for Advance Behavioral Center in Sanford and chair of LeeCAN Mental Health Partners, two of many organizations participating in the initiative. Mental distress is not all that unusual, she says, and when someone is threatening to hurt themselves or others, families often have no option but to call law enforcement.
Many community organizations and professionals join forces as Lee County's NC Crisis Intervention Team to offer the course. This year, that coalition also included the Broadway Police Department, Cameron Grove AME Zion Church, Central Carolina Hospital, Daymark Recovery Services, HAVEN, Lee County Public Health Department, Lee County Sheriff's Office, Lee Harnett Family Support, National Alliance on Mental Illness and its affiliate serving Cumberland, Harnett and Lee counties, Sandhills Center, Sanford Police Department and Therapeutic Alternatives Mobile Crisis. Siler City Police Department participated with Lee County for the first time.
Summer graduates include Mitchell Ashley, Kenneth Gilstrap, Charles Jordan, Jerod Kirk, William Malan and Zachary Petty of the Lee County Sheriff's Office; Audrey Baker, Mitchell Coggins, Johnathan Dorman, William Gardner, Kenneth Hair, William Heck, Kenneth Ott, Billy Rodgers, Nathan Snyder and James Young of the Sanford Police Department; and Tyler Bridges, William Kidd and Anthony Norton of the Siler City Police Department.
Recent graduates of the Lee County Crisis Intervention Team training program were, left to right: front row, William Gardner, Anthony Norton, Kenneth Gilstrap, Audrey Baker, Mitchell Coggins, Johnathan Dorman and William Heck; back; row, Zachary Petty, Jerod Kirk, Mitchell Ashley, William Malan, Kenneth Hair, Kenneth Ott, Nathan Snyder, Billy Rodgers, William Kidd, James Young and Charles Jordan. Not pictured is Tyler Bridges.
Sam Gaskins, Sanford Mayor Pro Tem and guest speaker for the Lee County Crisis Intervention Team's graduation ceremony, commended participants for developing skills to treat people facing challenges with dignity and understanding.