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Cops, specialists team for mental health training

May 14, 2017 By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer

Law enforcement and other officials have been learning about mental illnesses this week during a training session in Riverton.

The program, called Crisis Intervention Team training, shows officers how to de-escalate situations in which someone may be suffering from a mental health problem.

The Riverton Police Department hopes eventually to certify all of its officers and dispatchers. That way, residents will feel comfortable calling the police and asking for a CIT officer when a loved one is in need.

"A problem we all run into with law enforcement (is) people going through a crisis end up being arrested, because it's either not recognized as a mental health issue, or (police) don't know what to do with them," RPD lead dispatcher Ashley Byerly said Wednesday.

"We're trying to do something to be proactive (to get) these people the help they need."

Byerly was part of the group that brought CIT training to Fremont County. After she was certified last year in Casper, she began working with the RPD and other groups like Fremont Counseling and the Prevention Management Organization to plan the first local training session in November 2016.

PMO community prevention specialist Michelle Widmayer said the goal is to host two trainings a year, inviting law enforcement from other parts of the county and state to participate.


This week's session involved people from the RPD, the Wind River Police Department, Thermopolis, Hot Springs County, PMO, Volunteers of America and Injury Prevention Resources.

The group heard presentations from pharmacists, counselors, attorneys, law enforcement officers and local residents who have experience with mental illnesses.

"Fremont Counseling ... talked about the different personality disorders and mood disorders and the mental illness diagnosis," Widmayer said. "They brought in people that have these different diagnoses (to tell) their story and what they have gone through."

During another session, participants put on headphones and listen to recordings that simulate the voices someone with schizophrenia may hear.

"They do a lot of exercises that build that empathy," Widmayer said. "It really gives law enforcement the perspective of somebody with this mental illness."

Each day ends with role playing scenarios that ask officers to de-escalate various situations involving people with mental illness.

"They have to be able to talk to them and understand ... if you're not talking to them in a nice way, they're not going to de-escalate," Widmayer said. "I think that's really been eye-opening."

The role playing covers all kinds of situations, including those in which officers don't know whether the individual they're contacting has a disorder.

"Those are really hard situations to differentiate," Widmayer said. "They learn different question to ask, like, 'Are you on medications? Are you seeing a doctor? Have you been drinking today?' ... If you just talk to them, you're able to get that information out."

Byerly said the training tries to break through the stigma that has surrounded mental illness in the past.

"There's such a negative connotation that goes with mental illness, (but) if you're not suffering from a mental illness you probably know someone who is," she said. "We're trying to take that stigma out of it and just let people know there is help out there."

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