De-escalating a situation that could become dangerous, or even worse, deadly, is what Crisis Intervention Team training is all about.
Sgt. Patrick Del Turco, a Tiffin city police officer, is a leader in the training and said it has proven crucial in several situations involving persons in a mental health crisis.
"This training gives officers techniques to de-escalate situations to keep them from getting worse," said Del Turco, a co-coordinator of CIT training. "It also gives officers more empathy for persons with mental illness."
Del Turco said CIT has been utilized in Seneca, Sandusky and Wyandot counties for about five years. Along with teaching law enforcement officers how to deal with and de-escalate situations, it also teaches law enforcement to collaborate with other local agencies, including the National Alliance on Mental Illness and Firelands Counseling and Recovery Services.
"The specialized training started in Memphis after local law enforcement had shooting incidents with persons in a mental health crisis," Del Turco said. "They collaborated with the University of Memphis and the Memphis Police Department and came up with curriculum to help officers deal with mentally ill people."
The training is pretty much nationwide now, he said, and in Tiffin, the police department is in the process of getting all of its officers through training.
About two-thirds of Tiffin's police officers are trained in CIT, he said.
"It's a 40-hour course where officers get training on mental illness basics," he said. "The meat of the training involves de-escalation. When someone's in psychiatric crisis, bringing them the down and pointing them to the correct resource it's bridging law enforcement and mental health."
Del Turco, a Calvert High School and Tiffin University graduate, said he became interested and involved in crisis intervention after handling several incidents involving persons in mental crises.
In successfully dealing with many situations, he said he realized he had a knack for communicating with and de-escalating persons in crisis. He subsequently received training in basic and advanced hostage negotiation and crisis intervention. He became an original member of the Tiffin Police Department Crisis Negotiation Team.
In 2009, he was assigned as commander of the Crisis Negotiation Team.
After attending CIT training, he said he felt it was some of the most practical, helpful and effective training available to law enforcement and volunteered to assist with CIT trainings.
"I've used it numerous times and I think almost all officers who have taken the training will say it's beneficial," he said.
Tiffin Police Chief David LaGrange said Del Turco has been a catalyst for CIT and for the whole department, and each year, he helps get more officers through the training.
"The more officers we have who have that training, the more effectively we're able to deal with people in crisis," LaGrange said.
In 2010, Del Turco was asked by Josie Setzler, executive director of NAMI of Seneca, Sandusky and Wyandot and co-coordinator of CIT, to become a co-coordinator of CIT.
This year, Del Turco and David Olds, the police chief of the Upper Sandusky Police Department, were selected as recipients of the 2011 Ray of Hope Award from NAMI of Seneca, Sandusky and Wyandot counties.
Olds also is a leader in CIT training, according to a release from NAMI.
"They've shown a great deal of leadership and are advocates of the program," Setzler said. "They know how important law enforcement is with a person in crisis. There are cases when they make all the difference. Law enforcement can be vital in getting help for that person. If they know how to de-escalate, they can keep that mental health crisis from an arrest."
Setzler said each year the Seneca, Sandusky and Wyandot counties division of NAMI, a nationally-recognized organization which supports, educates and is an advocate of mental illness, honors people who make a difference in the community and offer hope.
Del Turco and Olds are to be recognized at an annual dinner Nov. 13 at the Community Civic Center.
"I'm really honored. It's unexpected and I'm grateful for the NAMI board for selecting me," Del Turco said.
Setzler said the organization still is taking reservations for the dinner, which also serves as a fundraiser.