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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — An overall lack of mental health crisis services across the country has resulted in law enforcement officers serving as first responders to most events, even if they’re not properly trained.

This week, local law enforcement officers are participating in a Crisis Intervention Team program to improve outcomes in these encounters. The Huntsville Police Department applied for a for a competitive grant and was one of four agencies in the nation to be selected for this CIT training program.

The first goal of a CIT program is to minimize the time that law enforcement officers are the first responders to a situation involving someone with a mental disability.

“If it’s a mental health crisis, we ought to have a mental health response,” said instructor Don Kamin with CIT International.

The second goal is to train officers on how to respond, de-escalate, and divert a situation when possible.

“When somebody’s suffering from a mental illness crisis, the officer still needs to be in control,” Kamin said. “But we talk about slowing it down, talking a bit softer, giving the individual in crisis some choice.”

Throughout the week, officers were taught different methods, and on Thursday, they practiced them in mock scenarios. In one scenario, an officer was called to an apartment where a mother and her depressed, potentially suicidal daughter were in distress. The officer had to knock on the door, assess the situation, and decide how to respond appropriately.

It’s estimated that programs like this help to decrease officer injuries when responding to events.

Crisis Intervention Team programs are meant to be a collaboration between law enforcement and the mental health community– helping to keep people with mental disabilities out of jail, in treatment, and on the road to recovery.