Meridian, Miss. Meridian and Lauderdale County are the first in the state of Mississippi to have a joint Crisis Intervention Team.
Crisis intervention has always been an issue for Meridian police officers and Lauderdale County sheriff's deputies. That's why grant money was made available to study and plan for the Crisis Intervention Team prior to launching it earlier this year.
"For years now, law enforcement has recognized that there were individuals who they were dealing with who would be better served in a mental health facility as opposed to going to jail or being left to," Chief Deputy Ward Calhoun says. "If they are home or on the streets. But law enforcement didn't have a lot of options."
The special team is relatively new. In fact, it has only been around since May of this year and is made up of four local agencies. This includes the Meridian Police Department, the Lauderdale County Sheriff's Department, Weems Mental Health Center, and Central Mississippi Residential Center. In order to receive certification, the officers had to go through a 40 hour, week long training course. Investigators say this program has been a great tool so far.
"This program is mainly geared towards adults and we're at the drawing board on setting and trying to find ways we can help the youth in this community," MPD Captain Wade Johnson says.
Lauderdale County dispatchers have also been trained to identify callers who may need assistance from the Crisis Intervention Team and therefore know when to dispatch a CIT officer.
"But of course, we don't live in a perfect world," Calhoun admits. "And there are times that an officer who isn't CIT trained may arrive on the scene and recognize because of basic training that they've received as well, that I need a CIT officer to access and make a determination about."
Calhoun says the individuals who need special assistance are transported to Central Mississippi Residential Center in Newton for help.