Fort Oglethorpe Police Depart­ment hosts cut­ting-edge cri­sis train­ing

The Catoosa County News - - COMMENTARY - By Ta­mara Wolk

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.

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