Local law enforcement is teaming up with mental health professionals, to better handle crisis situations. Officers are participating in Crisis Intervention Team Training this week.
"It's kind of humanizing the badge," said Sergeant Steven Abbott, officer at the Syracuse Police Department. "It's bringing the officers to the forefront. To be empathetic. To be a person. To not just be the uniform."
Abbott has been a police officer for 20 years. He has three children on the autism spectrum, and lost his father to suicide.
"I teach from a personal aspect," he said.
The goal of Crisis Intervention Teams is to decrease arrest rates and officer use of force. CIT is all about 'connect and direct' -- empathizing with people in crisis, then referring them to treatment in the community, said Abbott. CIT training is fully funded by state grants, so officers can participate for free. It's taught lecture-style over the course of five days, with scenario trainings, a test at the end, and a graduation.
"This training here opened my eyes completely 100 percent differently when handling a type of call like mental illness," said Jeffrey Draper, Campus Safety Officer at Onondaga Community College. "It's all about helping somebody. And if you can do it in the classroom field, you should be able to handle it out on the street. And that's what it's all about."
Officers learn about PTSD, personality and mood disorders, substance use, suicide and more, and how to approach different scenarios.
"I thought I could handle every type of call I could possibly go on," said Draper.
On top of learning how to take care of their communities, officers learn how to take care of themselves too, so they can survive and thrive in the force.
CIT training is still completely optional in New York State. But many local law enforcement agencies encourage officers to sign up.