Fort Oglethorpe Police Department hosts cutting-edge crisis training
You’re a police officer and you’ve been sent out on a disorderly conduct call. You find a man who is belligerent, yelling, lashing out at anyone who gets close to him.
In the old days, says Capt. Gary McConathy, director of training with the Fort Oglethorpe Police Department (FOPD), “you would probably have arrested the man and taken him to jail.”
But times are changing, and FOPD is embracing the change. From March 5 through March 9, FOPD hosted a week of Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training conducted by the Georgia Public Safety Training Center.
McConathy coordinated the training that was attended by six members of the Fort Oglethorpe Police Department as well as by members of the Ringgold Police Department, Calhoun Police Department, Chatsworth Police Department, Dalton City Police Department, Dalton College Police Department, Whitfield County Sheriff’s Department and the Georgia Department of Community Services.
“The training is based on the Memphis Model,” says McConathy. “It was developed after a mentally handicapped man in Memphis was killed by police officers.”
In the scenario above, rather than immediately decide to arrest the belligerent man, McConathy says CIT trains police to try to de-escalate the situation verbally, employing empathy, asking questions, giving the man a chance to share his problems.
“There’s also training to help officers recognize potential issues that might be contributing to the behavior,” says McConathy. “Maybe the man suffers from posttraumatic stress disorder. He could be schizophrenic or have a mood disorder or some other condition that affects his behavior. He could be diabetic or have another medical condition.”
McConathy says that even personal crises or tragedies can cause people to act in ways that could land them in jail – divorce, the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job.
CIT teaches officers to not only recognize possible problems and de-escalate potentially violent situations, but also to find help for people so they don’t end up in jail – to work as a team with the providers of resources meant to aid those in crisis. “We can talk to family members, find out who a person’s doctor is and arrange for them to see him or her,” says McConathy. “We can partner with mental health workers and rehabilitation services and send people to places where they can get help, like the Veteran’s Administration or Lookout Mountain Community Services. Sometimes peer support groups are a good option.”
Lookout Mountain Community Services participated in the crisis training by providing speakers to address issues concerning adolescents. They also helped officers see situations from a family’s perspective and they provided information about community resources.
“I’ve been in law enforcement for almost 28 years,” says McConathy, “and this is some of the best training I’ve ever had.”
Fort Oglethorpe Police Chief Mike Helton says his goal is to see that all FOPD officers complete the 40-hour course within the next 18 months. “We’re here to serve and protect people,” he says. “This expands our ability to serve.”
The Fort Oglethorpe Police Department hosted Crisis Intervention Team training through the Georgia Public Safety Training Center for members of eight law enforcement agencies. Far left: Fort Oglethorpe Police Chief Mike Helton. Second row, third from left: Fort Oglethorpe officer and coordinator of the CIT training, Capt. Gary McConathy.