For the last four years, Wheeling Police Chief Shawn Schwertfeger has been working to bring a first of it’s kind program to Wheeling.
Crisis Intervention Training is now in the state of West Virginia, giving officers a whole new set of skills to keep them safe on the streets. Partnering with Mental Health America and Youth Services Systems, the 40 hour week-long training is not your typical police work.
Officers from across the state are learning how to deal with people who are experiencing mental illness and crisis. Chief Schwertfeger said he wants his officers to know how to deal those kinds of situations safely, and even how to recommend resources instead of a band aid approach.
“These folks, when they are in crisis are, in my opinion, some of the most dangerous types of calls that police officers can handle. So, why would we not want to give our officers more skills to de-escalate or diffuse those situations should they become violent. And certainly we see tragedy after tragedy in those situations, so we do not want those tragedies if we can deter them,” said Schwertfeger.
“So I keep referring to us as pioneers. I’ve been involved for almost 20 years in Ohio in this type of work, so I’ve seen it grow and I’ve seen the real positive benefits of doing it,” said Liz Atwell, Executive Director of Mental Health America of Northern Kentucky and Southeastern Ohio.
Chief Schwertfeger added that he thinks there are too many people incarcerated, with mental illness being a catalyst for their incarceration. He said he hopes his officers use more resources on the streets instead of just arresting low-level offenders.
The training will cover PTSD, the Autism spectrum, depression and anxiety, and suicidal people.
The chief’s goal is to have several Wheeling Police officers teach these course and become a specialized unit who handle these types of challenging calls.
The training will be offered the week of September 11 as well. Registration is closed, but if police chiefs or officers are interested in attending, Wheeling Police said they are welcome.