Crisis Intervention Training coming to Johnson County next week

IOWA CITY — Nearly two years since Johnson County law enforcement agencies began sending deputies and officers to learn about Crisis Intervention Training, the students are becoming the teachers.

Beginning Monday, Johnson County will offer Crisis Intervention Training in Iowa City to area police officers and deputies, as well as officers from agencies outside of Johnson County and observers from the behavioral health community. All told, about 100 people will be participating in the 5-day, 40 hour training, said Johnson County Jail Alternatives Coordinator Jessica Peckover.

“It’s exciting,” Peckover said. “There was so much interest.”

Area law enforcement agencies have been sending officers and deputies to Crisis Intervention Training in San Antonio since May 2015 to teach them techniques on how to de-escalate situations with people experiencing substance abuse or mental health issues. Next week’s training will include sessions on a variety of topics, including psychosis and schizophrenia, excited delirium, suicide, intellectual disabilities, addiction and co-occurring disorders and homeless issues. Those sessions will be covered not only by mental health professionals, but local officers who have previously traveled to San Antonio for training.

“It’s not just clinicians and academics coming to talk to law enforcement about behavioral health, it’s law enforcement talking to their peers about this,” Peckover said.

Joan Becker, the mother of Mark Becker — who shot and killed Aplington-Parkersburg teacher and coach Ed Thomas and suffered from mental illness — will talk about mental health issues from a family’s perspective.

Participants will also engage in role playing to put the lessons they learned into practice. An officer from the San Antonio Police Department will be on hand to coach the instructors and facilitate the role play.

Johnson County Sheriff’s Office Maj. Steve Dolezal, who confesses to once being skeptical about crisis intervention trading, but has since championed the cause locally and helped lead the effort to bring training to Johnson County, is excited to see that training finally happen.

“It’s a long time coming,” Dolezal said.

But, Dolezal emphasized the training is just one aspect of a greater effort area officials are trying to undertake in addressing issues relating to those struggling with substance abuse, mental health and homeless issues. Dolezal said training officers to recognize when someone is in a crisis and not necessarily best suited to go to jail or the emergency room only goes so far when there is no where else to take them.

“There’s a lot of work left to be done,” he said. “We can train all of the officers in the area. Having options to take them to places outside of jail and the emergency rooms is really our next step.”

In addition to crisis intervention training, officials who have traveled to a campus in San Antonio that is home to the Haven for Hope no-barrier homeless shelter and the Restoration Center, a facility that hoses a sobering unit, detoxification unit and mental health crisis stabilization unit where visitors can stay for up to 24 hours. Peckover, Dolezal and other area officials hope to bring such a facility to Johnson County, tailored to the community’s needs.

Stakeholder meetings including representatives from Johnson County, area municipalities, health care providers and other service providers have taken place since groups first started traveling to San Antonio. Discussions about a local access center are continuing, Peckover said.

“Things are moving forward,” she said. “Things have gotten much slower.”

Peckover said interest in an access center remains, but now questions are revolving around how much the county and municipalities, as well as other organizations could kick in to fund the center. Peckover said the Iowa City Council and Johnson County Board of Supervisors have both indicated they would set aside funds in the fiscal 2018 budget that would support the capital costs of the facility. Ongoing funding for the center remains a question, however. Uncertainty about health care costs are also a factor, Peckover said.

“Nobody wants to build a building and not be able to fund it,” she said.

Regardless, crisis intervention training has made its way to Johnson County and Peckover said there is statewide interest in it. Johnson County plans to host the training three times a year.

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