Thirty Suffolk County police officers have graduated from a new mental health awareness training program to improve the department's responses to residents with mental illness, officials said.
The Crisis Intervention Training team program was funded by a state Office of Mental Health grant, according to a news release. The officers graduated from the weeklong program, conducted by the Institute for Police, Mental Health & Community Collaboration, in a ceremony at Suffolk County Community College in Brentwood on Friday.
Next month, the police department, sheriff's office, county Division of Community Mental Hygiene Services and local advocates will participate in an event sponsored by the State Senate to expand the program.
“The Suffolk County Police Department is committed to continuing to ensure that our officers in the field are well-versed and highly trained in as many scenarios as possible, including those pertaining to mental health and crisis management situations," Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart said in a statement. "With the continuing goal of enhancing our community relations platform, this training ensures that our participating officers have the ability to efficiently act and communicate with our residents when needed most."
The officers learned to de-escalate situations that involve interactions with people suffering from mental illness, and to "divert" them "from the criminal justice system when appropriate" to treatment programs or support services, the release stated. The officers were taught to recognize indicators of emotional distress and mental illness.
Dr. James Tomarken, the commissioner of the county's Health Services Department, said the training gives officers more tools to deal with such situations.
The program's goal is to reduce the number of arrests of these people and "eliminate hostile incidents" between them and police officers, according to the release.
“This specialized training program brings together all stakeholders to guarantee that our police officers have the tools necessary to effectively do their job," County Executive Steve Bellone said in a statement. "The skills that are developed will better assist those dealing with a mental health emergency and enhance public safety.”