Meridian Police and the Lauderdale County Sheriff's Department are in training this week to form a Crisis Intervention Team, or C.I.T. The teams were first established in Memphis in 1988 by a Meridian native to help officers responding to calls with a mentally ill person present. All officers receive training on handling situations with those who are mentally ill, but this training goes a step further.
Sam Cochran, a Meridian native, retired major from the Memphis Police Department and current coordinator of the C.I.T. center in Memphis, says, "This is a much more intense training, a specialized type training to elevate the officers to a specialist certification level in order to have a better understanding the uniqueness of the crisis relating to mental illness."
C.I.T. teams are in about 2500 communities and research shows safety has increased in those communities.
"There has been some research where officer safety has been enhanced; officer injury rates have gone down significantly. Some of the data does not have information available for individuals who have mental illness, but we're very confident that the officers are not getting injured. The people in mental crisis are not getting injured either," says Cochran.
Meridian Police officers hope this training will show the same results here.
Captain Wade Johnson of the Meridian Police Department tells us, "We train hard to hopefully prepare our officers for every situation, and one part that we really haven't had sufficient training in is dealing with the mentally ill, so this is definitely giving us a better approach to that situation."
Once the team is fully operational, they hope to expand the training to neighboring counties.