HIGHLAND HEIGHTS -- Not all calls to police are created equal, especially whenthe person who is calling has a mental illness.
"I always want the officers to have safety as a first thing, but I want them to realize that the individual that they are dealing with did not ask for this illness and to treat them with respect, like if it was one of their family members, and try to get them the appropriate help," said Highland Heights Police Chief Jim Cook.
In many ways, mental illness is a disease doctors are still trying to figure out. There are no obvious physical injuries for a first responder to see.However, when someone is suicidal, 911 is generally the first call made and police are on the front lines.
Over the last four years, Chief Cookhas been teaching the classes thatexplain to officers what that"appropriate help" is.
Chief Cook,Bill Denihan and the folks fromAlcohol, Drug, Addiction andMental Health Services Boardcreated the training program.
The classes explain to officers that someone resisting arrest, not respecting authority and acting out, are not always criminals. Sometimes it's behavior depicting the medical emergency of a mental illness episode.It requires something a little more delicate than an authoritative approach.
"There was very minimal education on this when I first got into police work,"Cook explained. "Professionally, I've been on a lot of crisis situations, I've been on a lot of suicides and from a personal standpoint, my own son was diagnosed with a severe mental illness in early 2000 and had to be hospitalized."
Chief Cook's son Jimmy, wasa stand-out student-athlete who became an accountant.He had a severe mental illness that eventually led him to take his own life.
"If people don't understand what a severe depression is, or they don't understand what bipolar is, or they don't have an understanding of schizcophrenia they don't have a lot of empathy for these people they think -- 'hey this is just an excuse, it's a character flaw, I don't have this problem,' 'they shouldn't through strong willpower just be able to buck it up, that is not true. It's a biological condition a chemical imbalance of the brain and they are not going to do it just by willpower."
Cook hopesbytalking more about Jimmy he can help other families.
"I've dealt with it as a parent and as a professional. It's a very difficult situation."
These are situations that make headlines when an officer or the person who is having the medical emergency gets hurt or even killed.
Carole Ballard from ADAMHS helps teach the classes that aim at de-escalating these emergency situations.
"It may not be a broken bone, but it is still a medical emergency, and it's something treatable."
The training explains what kinds of behaviors officers need to look for, how to respond, and where resources are available.
In 2005, a study done by the National Alliance on Mental Illness revealed more than half of all prison and jail inmates had some sort of a mental health problem.
"We don't want to put mentally ill people in jail. Don't get me wrong, they are responsible for their actions, but you know that is not the actual course, that in most of these cases, that we are looking to get them help."
The illness is difficult to understand.
This "Mental Health 101 Class" being taught by Cook is a spin-off of another course that is called CIT or Crisis Intervention Team.
The CIT was started in the late 80's in Memphis.It was in response to the killing of a man who had a severe mental illness.Officers didn't know he was sick. That training is a 40-hour course.
Shrinking budgets and staff don't allow for departments to have this training, which is why Cook's classis a nice alternative.
Over the years, 400 officers from Northeast Ohio have been trained.