COLORADO SPRINGS — Many of the calls our law enforcement officers respond to involve someone who is experiencing a mental health crisis.
Dispatchers, campus police, patrol officers and deputies working in the jail all took part in this "Crisis Intervention Training". Paid actors put them to the test in mental health crisis scenarios in the hopes of preparing them for the real thing.
"Well, I got a phone call and I was sent out here because there was someone that was worried. I think it was the crisis hotline saying that you might be thinking about harming yourself," El Paso County Sheriff's Deputy Jamie Coffey told the actor who in this scenario was suicidal.
Coffey is taking on this mental health crisis scenario as he tries to earn his Crisis Intervention Training (C.I.T.) certification.
"Firearms make me a little nervous Mike," Coffey told the actor during the real-life simulation as he picked up a weapon that was sitting on a nearby chair. "I'm just going to hang onto it while we talk."
Crouching in the corner of the room, Coffey offered to help the man.
"Is there anything that you think I can help you with to maybe get out of this situation we're in now?," he said.
With fellow officers from Pikes Peak area law enforcement agencies and other evaluators looking on and taking notes, Coffey completed the scenario safely getting the man to agree to getting some help.
"Being able to talk will often keep you from using force and I think that's why it's so vital because if you don't know how to do those things you're going to find yourself in a situation that could get you hurt, or maybe the person you're dealing with and obviously nobody wants that," Coffey told News5.
In this training, first responders spend 40 hours working on these crisis intervention skills alongside paid actors who provide a simulated experience with people who are suicidal, who might have weapons, or need help working through other mental health struggles.
El Paso County Sheriff's Deputy Lora Robblee helps to lead this effort.
"So if they do not pass the scenarios they do not become CIT certified and the certification is something that we really hold close to us because it's something of value. We don't want to just give it out to everybody. So we want to make sure the standard is high and held high," said Robblee.
Those who pass this training become CIT certified. You'll see this blue pin on their uniforms.
It's evidence of a regional law enforcement effort to improve communication skills to help keep people out of jail and to get them the mental health assistance they need.
"We are going to get much more out of the job and the community is going to receive much more of a benefit because we can direct them to resources when we know the root of the problem instead of just putting a band-aid on things," said Robblee.
Mental health professionals are now working right alongside first responders in the Pikes Peak Region. In fact, El Paso County patrol deputies are partnered up with them.
For more information on the way the El Paso County Sheriff's Office responds to mental health issues visit: https://www.epcsheriffsoffice.com/sections-law-enforcement-bureau/patrol-division/bhcon-unit
If you or anyone you know needs help immediately, call Colorado Crisis Services at 1-844-493-8255.