Academy Welcomes the Blue

Academy Welcomes the Blue

Sarasota police “lunch and learn” as part of their 40-hour crisis intervention training.

Sarasota Police Officers began streaming into the Academy just after noon. Fourteen officers visited us as part of their Crisis Intervention Training (CIT). This may have been the first time that some of them have knowingly interacted with someone with a mental health diagnosis outside of crisis calls. Academy member Paul Hennekes joined them for lunch as he presented tableside on what we do, fielding questions from the officers while offering a personal account of his experience as a member. Lunch- a hearty Italian buffet comprised of chicken parmesan, eggplant parmesan, roasted vegetables, pasta and a beautiful mixed green salad- was prepared and served by members. For some, this was a revelation. “You can’t tell who is on staff and who are the members.” We hear this so often.

CIT is a model of policing developed in the late 1980s. The model calls for first-responders to take a community-based approach to mental health calls, accessing treatment and supports instead of placing individuals in the criminal justice system. Touring the Academy and other mental health-related facilities is just one part of a 40-hour curriculum that includes de-escalation techniques, identification of diagnoses, community outreach, Baker Act (mental health) and Marchman Act (substance abuse) training, and scenario-based trainings.

Our hope is that in meeting members who are stable, thriving, and productive, they can find the humanity in those whose behavior might be challenging because of their symptoms. Within a population for which unemployment rates already hover around 85%, a legal background all but ensures that they will never work. One officer asked, “how would the Academy like to strengthen a partnership with law enforcement?” The answer was simple: keep coming back! The more exposure law enforcement gets to members on a good day (that is the majority of days for most), the deeper their understanding of mental health, recovery, and the great potential of all who are diagnosed. After lunch, Paul provided a comprehensive tour of the building before sending them off with a fresh perspective on mental health.

Paul Hennekes (standing at right) shares his story with visitors from the Sarasota Police Department.

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