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Crisis Intervention trainers on staff at local law enforcement agencies

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Huntsville Police and other agencies in Madison County are taking Crisis Intervention Training to the next level by training officers how to teach the program to others on the force.

The training is geared toward mental health.

"Officers are able to recognize certain illnesses that people may be exhibiting on calls. It allows them a technique to deescalate the situations that can get the folks help they may need," said Sgt. Grady Thigpen, Community Resource Supervisor. "If it's an emotional, elevated environment, it allows them to deescalate the situation."

That investment is continuing to pay off in Huntsville and Madison County, as agencies now have officers on-staff who can train others with what they have learned in the program, bringing more and more people into the fold.

"It's similar to like our field training officer program, only we are training the trainers in the CIT program. We are going to utilize our training and bring new officers as well as senior officers into this program," Sgt. Thigpen said of Huntsville Police's effort. "We're taking this to a new level."

He said it's helpful to have people familiar with the department doing the training.

"We are training in-house by HPD officers. We know how our policies and directives are adhered to. So being able to utilize our policies and directives to educate our officers in this," he said.

Last month, Huntsville Police Department's Crisis Intervention Team graduated.  They were part of a class including law enforcement from other departments trained on those necessary skills to make them more aware of how to approach and help those with mental illnesses.

"Officer safety is our primary goal. To make sure we all make it home safe to our families, wives and kids," Thigpen said.

Mental health is an issue the department is continually dealing with. And better training could help the community too.

A judge recently denied immunity for Huntsville Police Officer William Darby, who is charged with murder. He's accused of shooting and killing an apparently suicidal man, Jeffery Parker, one year ago.

Parker's friends and loved ones have spoken about mental health training and how seeing officers ready to deescalate situations renews their hope in the department.

Police say the goal of the CIT is to foster a safer and more effective response. They say eventually, the goal is to start training other law enforcement agencies around the state in the program.

"It could possibly grow to that level. And hopefully it will," Sgt. Thigpen stated. "But right now we are trying to solely focus on our agencies here in our area."

He said police are seeing more calls dealing with mental health issues.

"We are on the forefront of this," he said, "and that's an exciting thing to have."

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