By Deric Rush, WISTV

The Columbia Police Department (CPD) and the Richland County Sheriff’s Department (RCSD) have made efforts to improve their responses and save lives in the Midlands.

They are accomplishing this through Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) – a program introduced by the National Alliance on Mental Illness – which is designed to address the lack of mental health crisis services across the U.S.

The CIT expansion effort began back in 2017. Data from the Prison Policy Initiative reveals roughly 43% of people in state prisons and 44% of people at local jails have been diagnosed with a mental disorder.

Reverend Dianna Deaderick, who works closely with the social action group MORE Justice, sees firsthand what is contributing to those numbers.

“One day, one of the gentleman came in who was a regular, and I knew he had mental health issues, and I knew he wasn’t on his medication and he was just off the chains threatening other folks,” Deaderick said. “We had about 50 other clients he was threatening [and] himself. He was threatening me, so I knew we needed to call assistance. So, when the police department sent their officer I said, are you certified in CIT?”

In 2017 and 2018, MORE Justice asked public officers in several departments to be CIT certified by 2021, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic, both agencies are still working to fully train all the officers.

“You know, police have faced a lot of criticism on how we’ve handled critical incidents in the past,” said Columbia Police Chief Skip Holbrook. “Maybe we’ve taken a more of an aggressive approach. It all came down to training and better understanding what we were dealing with.”

CIT Training is free for officers in Richland County. It requires 40 hours of training and lasts for a week. When they began the initiative, roughly 58 officers across both CPD and RCSD.

Recent data from both departments reveal close to 500 officers are now trained between the two agencies.

“We did see the value,” added Holbrook. “And we invested hard in it. And I think what that translates to is we are able to touch a lot of people in a different way than what has traditionally been done. I think we’re up to about 230 people who have been trained which is a big number.”

RCSD said they are the first agency in the state of South Carolina to implement a fully staffed Crisis Intervention Team. They host three of these trainings a year with a goal of having 50 officers fully trained at the end of each year.

View the original story here.