Northeast Ohio police officers urge area teachers to seek crisis intervention team training

Published: Aug. 25, 2022 at 7:42 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - Many parents are sending kids back to school with stories about active shooters and school threats still weighing heavy on their hearts.

Over the last month, 19 Investigates went looking for new ways communities are trying to make classrooms safer.

We discovered there’s a huge demand for specialized training in crisis intervention.

Crisis Intervention skills are especially useful to emergency responders working crime scenes and with jail inmates.

But now, there’s been a shift in thinking, knowing the skills have the potential to help students.

Jerry Klue is the Chief of Police at Akron Children’s Hospital. He’s been a champion for Crisis Intervention Team training for years, successfully sending more than a dozen of his officers through the 40 hour course.

“It really takes that 40-hour course to really clearly understand all the different types of mental health situations that are out there, and then be able to deal with them properly, bring calm, deescalate and get the people to help they need,” Klue said.

For example, Lt. William Heilmeier explained one of many exercises he went through during CIT training.

“They put this headset on you and you hear voices in your head, and you’re trying to go out of the parking lot and grab these license plates. And, so, you’re trying to like do this, and you’re hearing these voices. You understand what it’s like for something isn’t it suffering from schizophrenia, like why it would be very tough for them to do tasks on normal day. So, you it really makes you empathetic to what to what’s going on,” Lt. Heilmeier said.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in six kids ages 6-17 are struggling with a mental health issue. Only about half receive treatment.

“If the teachers and the school resource officers don’t identify that then it goes undiagnosed and not treated and then it becomes a problem later,” Heilmeier said.

Left undiagnosed, mental disorders can lead kids to drop out of school, and a lot of those who do end up in jail. That’s what crisis intervention teams want to prevent.

“A lot of times that ‘T’ gets confused as ‘training’ and it’s really [crisis intervention] ‘team,’” Heilmeier said. “It’s really just about bringing everybody together, and creating those partnerships and that team aspect.”

Lt. Heilmeier and Chief Klue went to Columbus at the beginning of the month to talk to educators about how CIT training can be useful to school resource officers and even educators themselves.

“I think that we are all facing the exact same problems,” Chief Klue said. “There are so many kids that are that are having a mental health crisis from all the things that have happened over the last few years.”

Klue says he perceived the educators to be very interested in the discussion on how CIT training could improve school safety.

“I was really happy when we were talking and I saw people closing their laptops instead of to listen, rather than to finish their emails. We had them. We had them locked in and they were they were definitely listening to us,” Klue said.

The interest didn’t necessarily come as a surprise to them.

Data from NeoMed shows the demand for CIT training is higher than ever before, as the push for mental health awareness expands nationwide.

“One of the administrators said, we’re very good at being reactive but we’re not proactive,” Heilmeier said. “The biggest thing that we want to do is we want to reduce use of force. We want to reduce the anxiety that the person suffering is feeling on top of what they’re already feeling with anxiety, and it’s about being proactive and not being reactive.”

Data from last year shows the majority of people going through the training are sworn officers.

There’s no breakdown that shows how many are working in schools as SROs. But, we do know that right now, educators themselves only make up 1% of those trained.

With police shortages the way they are now, Klue says he explained to teachers that it’s hard to find time for officers to attend a week-long training. That’s one of the reasons it would be great for educators to have the skills and be a part of the team.

“We talked a lot about training the SRO, but we also talked about the training could be for them as well if they get that opportunity,” Klue said.

Klue says training sessions fill up fast and there are often not enough seats for everyone who wants to attend.

But he believes in it so much, he worked with organizations in Summit County to put on additional sessions.

“We can never say that this program is going to stop school shootings, because we can’t say that. But, we know that it has an effect a positive effect, a calming effect and a program development effect that is going to help,” Klue said. “If we can come up with different ways of safety that we can add to, whether it’s education for the officers whether it’s SROs or whether it’s education for the the faculty to come up with identification and understanding, I think it’s going to go a long way.”

You can see the breakdown of which police departments in your area have CIT trained officers as well as where the training is offered in the data from NeoMed.