Thirteen graduate from crisis intervention training

By HASKEL BURNS,

Glen Wieck, a police officer at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, didn’t know quite what to expect last Monday when he joined a week-long program to join the Pine Belt Crisis Intervention Team.

But after a graduation ceremony held Friday for Wieck and 13 of his fellow school resource officers in the program, he now has a greater understanding of the abilities needed to assist students, families and other individuals in the community dealing with mental illness crisis situations.

“Each and every one of us here has come into contact, or will come into contact, with someone who has a mental illness in a crisis situation, Wieck said at the ceremony, which was held at Petal School District’s ReD Lab. “With this training, and the knowledge I’ve learned and the community resources that are available to us, we’ll be able to provide a more successful (outcome) than we could prior to this course.”

The 40-hour course, which ran Monday through Friday, was hosted by the Petal School District specifically for school resource officers and was attended by representatives of five school systems in the area. Constructed by Petal School Police Department Chief Gavin Guy and members of the Crisis Intervention Team of Pine Belt Mental Health Resources, the class marked the first time a CIT class in Mississippi had been given exclusively for school resource officers.

Throughout the course, officers are equipped to understand the nuances of mental illness and recognize when someone is in crisis, enabling them to respond appropriately to the situation.

“I went through this program two years ago, and it kind of opened my eyes to some things,” Guy said. There are (many) people dealing with mental illness, and I think it’s very important for officers to have that training to recognize it.

“So Petal School District has six officers – counting myself, that makes seven – that are now CIT-certified. It’s another tool for law enforcement officers to help, and I think it’s great.”

The program was implemented in Jones County in 2016, with law enforcement agencies such as the Lamar County Sheriff’s Office, Hattiesburg Police Department and Ellisville Police Department training in CIT shortly after the start of the program. Some of the main tenets of the program include decreasing officer injury rates, increasing public awareness of mental health issues to decrease stigma, and emphasizing treatment – rather than incarceration – of people with mental illness.

“It’s been a privilege to work on this; this is the culmination of my career,” CIT Coordinator Linda Foley said. “It’s a way to make a difference.”

Graduates included:

• Orrin Berry of the Perry County School District

• Christy Carona, John Myers, Richard Santora, Jamie Sheffield, Glenn Todd Wilson and Clay Johnson of the Petal School District

• Michael Clark, Mike Sargent and Mark Mitchell of the Laurel School District

• Joshua James, Glen Wieck and Dan Pearson of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College

• Jason Simon of Forrest County Agricultural High School.

“It’s very important for us to be proactive in all that we do in policing the K-12 arena,” said Matt Dillon, superintendent of the Petal School District. “We try to be a leader in everything we do in this district, and safety and security is one of those things as well.

“So I’m very proud of the six officers in my district who were able to go through this training, and I know this training is going to help us be more proactive in the things we do throughout our district.”

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