CLARKS SUMMIT — Officer Robert Shedlock feels more equipped to handle potentially dangerous situations and help assist citizens in need after completing a 40-hour class on crisis intervention.
The 25-year veteran of the Clarks Summit Police Department joined fellow officers, 9-1-1 operators, emergency medical technicians, prison employees and teachers at the Lackawanna County Center for Public Safety in Jessup for the training session sponsored by the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI).
Through the CIT (Crisis Intervention Team), police can coordinate with mental health services available in Lackawanna County.
According to Shedlock, CIT officers are trained to slow situations down and try to establish some sort of bond or communication with an individual in a specific instance.
“It differs a little bit from our normal approach,” he said. “Police officers generally are real big on command and control. We’re trained on officer safety. Being a member of the crisis intervention team doesn’t negate your officer safety training, but it presents the officer with a different skill set to assess what is going on with an individual.”
The mission of the Scranton Area Crisis Intervention team is to build a community partnership between police officers, community agencies, mental health consumers and family members. It provides officers the understanding and skills to identify and manage police situations involving mental health consumers in crisis.
Shedlock added the training taught team members how to detect possible mental health issues.
“People who use mental health services don’t necessarily react well to command and control,” he said. “The crisis intervention training presented us with a huge set of resources and it’s basic purpose is to recognize if there is a mental health issue.”
Shedlock stressed the importance of police officers and mental health professionals working together toward a common goal.
“We want to try to divert a person from the criminal justice system into a mental health system which has a better impact on the community because it solves the problem,” he said. “A citation for disorderly conduct doesn’t get them evaluated or put you in contact with their case worker.”
Through his training, he’s also available to assist officers in times of crisis when off duty.
“I’ve received calls for referrals to establish a pattern of contacts for another team member,” Shedlock said.
It didn’t take long for Shedlock to have an opportunity to put the new information and resources to work.
“My second day back on the job after the class, I received a call from an out of state person who informed me their relative was highly intoxicated in a house full of guns,” he said. “(The relative) called them and said, ‘You better call the police, I think I’m going to kill myself.’ I actually used the approaches and techniques I was taught in that situation.”
He added officers in Clarks Summit have regular contact with people who utilize mental health services, a reason he wears a CIT pin on his uniform.
“I wear the pin because it’s a national model and I’ll have consumers who will recognize the pin and know what to expect from me,” Shedlock said. “The conversation will be directed toward focusing on them and finding out their issues.”
The training class featured guest speakers from the local health community, The Arc of Northeastern Pennsylvania and the Lackawanna County Veterans Affairs Office.
According to Shedlock, team members had the opportunity to converse with people diagnosed with a mental illness.
“It was rather enlightening to see someone you may have met in the worse possible time of their life, and today they’re a happy, productive and contributing member of society,” he said.
Shedlock also felt role playing exercises added to the educational value of the class.
“We modified our approach by utilizing techniques we were taught,” he said. “We were critiqued and it was very interesting to see how a 9-1-1 dispatcher or teacher handles the exact same input as a police officer, because we all have to think a little bit differently.”
Shedlock has learned a lot of valuable lessons from other seminars and classes over the years.
“I’m the firearms instructor and I’ve been to some very good interview and interrogation, and crime scene preservation classes,” he said. “They aren’t required by law, but they expand your awareness.”
Reach Robert Tomkavage at 570-704-3941 or on Twitter @rtomkavage.