Archive for Saturday, July 11, 2015

Lawrence police aim to have all officers complete Crisis Intervention Training to address those in mental health crises

July 11, 2015


When 18-year-old Joseph Jennings, of Ottawa, was fatally shot by Ottawa police officers in August 2014, it was the end of a life riddled by seizures, migraines and depression, Jennings' aunt, Brandy Smith, said after the incident.

Joseph Jennings, shown here in a portrait from the 2011 Oskaloosa Junior-Senior High School yearbook, was killed in a shooting involving Ottawa and Franklin County authorities.

Joseph Jennings, shown here in a portrait from the 2011 Oskaloosa Junior-Senior High School yearbook, was killed in a shooting involving Ottawa and Franklin County authorities.

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Lawrence Police Chief Tarik Khatib says that his department can learn from the relationship between the Ferguson, Mo., police department and the community. Khatib is requiring his officers to read the U.S. Department of Justice’s report on the Ferguson case.

Lawrence Police Chief Tarik Khatib says that his department can learn from the relationship between the Ferguson, Mo., police department and the community. Khatib is requiring his officers to read the U.S. Department of Justice’s report on the Ferguson case.

Smith said her nephew had attempted suicide at her home 12 hours before his death. He’d been admitted to the hospital following the attempt in an apparent mental health crisis, and had been released just three hours before his confrontation with police.

"He was very intelligent, loved animals and his family," Smith told the Journal-World last year. "He will be missed."

A concerned citizen had called 911, reporting a young man was “waving a handgun and putting the weapon in his waistband” in the Orscheln Farm and Home parking lot, 2008 S. Princeton St. in Ottawa, the Journal-World reported after the incident. When officers arrived, they believed there was an imminent danger when Jennings pulled an item from his waistband and pointed it toward them.

The officers opened fire. They would later discover that the suspicious item was a pair of sunglasses, according to a report issued by the Franklin County Attorney’s Office on the death.

The shooting was ruled justified.

Stepping in early

In Lawrence, police are making strides to de-escalate situations before use of force becomes necessary, especially when it comes to mental health crises. At the Nehemiah Action Assembly at the Lied Center in May, sponsored by local faith coalition Justice Matters, Lawrence Police Chief Tarik Khatib told the 1,700 attendees that he planned to have all Lawrence officers within three years complete a 40-hour training course, known as Crisis Intervention Training, on how to handle encounters with people in mental health crises.

That timeline has sped up recently, with the goal now to have all officers trained by August 2017. Khatib said in an email that a plan for the training has been in the works for “a couple years,” but Justice Matters’ efforts in advocating for and engaging in discussion about Crisis Intervention Training, or CIT, “helped (the police department) move up our time table for that 100 percent accomplishment.”

“I was first asked about (CIT) when I became the chief, so you can see how long we have been working on it,” Khatib said in an email. “There are many training needs for the limited amount of time and the community discussion and interest has helped us focus and try to make this happen sooner.”

Crisis Intervention Training for law enforcement focuses on defusing crisis situations, Justice Matters organizer Ben MacConnell said. Justice Matters had spent six months researching community mental health solutions, which prompted the group's interest in having CIT in Lawrence.

“CIT helps folks understand the underlying issues beneath the situation,” MacConnell said. “They can ascertain if it’s not really a criminal problem but a mental health issue.”

While each community develops its own CIT curriculum to address local needs, the basic approach is outlined by the International Crisis Intervention Team. Training consists of 40 hours of in-classroom training, including education on mental illnesses and their signs and symptoms, overviews of local mental health organizations and their services and training in crisis de-escalation techniques.

Last year, the department helped form the Douglas County CIT council to help define the department’s training, which will start in September and continue through August 2017. According to Khatib, the department has already accomplished its goal to have all officers trained in mental health first-aid.

“We know we can't train everyone at once, so the plan is to start with people that have an interest so as to build positive energy and momentum for the training among officers,” Khatib said in an email.

Avoiding tragedy

Police departments across the country have been adopting CIT plans for years. The Memphis, Tenn., police department implemented CIT in 1988. Since then, injuries to those suffering from mental illnesses have decreased 40 percent, and officer injury rates have dropped by 85 percent, according to CIT International.

MacConnell said a major benefit of CIT is that it prepares law enforcement to better avoid tragic outcomes like Jennings’.

“There are police all over the county shooting people and getting lawsuits when it is someone with a mental illness,” MacConnell said. “(CIT) pushes up against classic police training where (officers) want to take control with a commanding voice. There are situations where that’s not appropriate.”

Fortunately, Lawrence has not seen an incident like Jennings’ in recent years, but Lawrence certainly has its share of mental health crises. A May 22 city staff memo presented to city commissioners said that between Jan. 1 and April 30, officers responded to approximately 750 calls related to suicide-related calls or requests to check an individual’s welfare.

The Rev. Kathy Williams, Justice Matters leader and pastor at First United Methodist Church, said she admires that the Lawrence police take a proactive, instead of reactive, position on addressing community needs. Khatib, for example, has ordered all officers to read the U.S. Department of Justice’s report on the police department in Ferguson, Mo., following the controversial police shooting of an unarmed man there.

“The sad thing is police departments often get serious about this training only after an untrained officer mishandles a mental health call resulting in death and lawsuits,” Williams said. “Fortunately, our police chief would rather prevent a tragedy than wait for one to happen.”

Moving forward, Justice Matters hopes to see Douglas County open a mental health crisis center, mental health court and diversion program.

County officials are currently studying options for expansion of the county jail and the construction of a separate intervention center, where nonviolent inmates can be diverted away from the jail for mental health crises or substance abuse problems.

MacConnell and Williams said the CIT and a mental health emergency intervention center would complement each other, allowing officers to further help those suffering while also cutting down the Douglas County Jail population numbers.

“We were astounded to discover how much responsibility related to mental health has fallen onto our police, courts and jails,” said Williams. “We definitely have a lot of work to do to get beyond crisis management. But we have to start somewhere and (getting all officers through CIT) is a strong first step.”


Ron Holzwarth 2 years, 11 months ago

Almost exactly three years ago an extremely traumatic event occurred. It would have been very helpful if one of the Lawrence police officers that responded to the situation had read these web pages:

Apparently due to liability concerns, the officers received no assistance at all from someone who could have described the traumatic event in detail, he certainly knew about it, but kept his mouth shut. Or maybe he just didn't "put it together," I really don't know.

It would have been very helpful if at least one of the officers had tried to coax some information out about exactly what the traumatic event had been. But as far as I know, that wasn't done. Although, it seems that any memories of the event were almost completely suppressed most of the time. Later, they were recovered and a police report was filed. But by then, it was too late for any kind of criminal prosecution or a warning to the assailant against that type of behavior from the police. And, a Buccal swab would have been a very good idea, considering.

This is opinion: I don't think that psychological trauma usually has only one single cause. From analyzing this complex and criminal event, all I can say is that in at least many cases, it has several causes.

The best thing to have done would have been to call 911, and pick up the best knife for defense until the police got there. And then press charges for sure - immediately.

And in this case, the assailant's employer didn't even call the police. In fact, he wasn't even fired.

But it is true that the Lawrence police officers that responded to the situation were helpful - but they didn't know what to do in that situation.

Richard Njoroge 2 years, 11 months ago

Is about time this program is in place i wrote an email few years ago asking the dept to implement this. My daughter surfer from depression and at one point the police came to her apartment,i will not mention the officer name but he treated her like criminal and she was not even violemt at all. But i also remember some other officers who were kind to her .so am glad this is happening here in our community and thant you to our police chief.

Steve Jacob 2 years, 11 months ago

It is great to see officers get trained, but Joseph Jennings is a bad example. If the police think any subject is pulling a gun on them (which a 911 caller said he had) all the CIT training goes out the window.

Charlene Kirch 2 years, 11 months ago

You are miss informed about a 911 call stating Joseph pulled a gun on the Police, In fact the ONLY 911 call that was made was done by Joseph himself! There were 3 officers there during the altercation that knew Joseph was mentally ill. One even stated DON"T shoot I know him, but the police didn't listen, It infuriates me to read your comment stating Joseph Jennings was a bad example! He was a PERFECT example to prove Police need better training while dealing with people that are suicidal. Joseph was released form Ransom Memorial less than 24 hrs before the OPD killed him. He had taken an over dose of his medication for seizures. The psychiatrist from Elizabeth layton center released him knowing he had just had to get his stomach pumped due to trying to commit suicide. There is suppose to be a mandatory 72 hour hold on anyone that attempts suicide but they didn't fallow that rule.My grandson Joseph Jennings lost his life because OPD was unprepared on how to defuse a situation like this. Joseph was let down by the docs that spoke with him. He was let down by OPD! Joseph was NOT armed and did NOT deserve to have his life taken the way it was. 29 shots with AR15 are you kidding me? Joseph was HIT 9 times. So many of Joseph's rights were violated that day. They gave him 9 dam minutes to calm down. They had no clue what the hell they were doing so they Murdered him. He had a cell phone on him as well as a pair of sun glasses. The Media and the OPD twisted every word that was reported to them. Why? The story had to be Media worthy so they spiced up the facts.There is so much more to this story. One fact remains Joseph was murder in cold blood! I hope and pray no one else will have to endure the pain my family still feels to this day!

Lawrence Freeman 2 years, 11 months ago

The PD deserves credit for being proactive. They also deserve praise for only issuing 10 citations for fireworks violations. I'm fairly sure that the citations issued had extenuating circumstances. Great job!!

Clark Coan 2 years, 11 months ago

Long past overdue. They should take refresher courses every two years as well as people forget. That's why CPR training certification is only valid for two years.

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