Law enforcement officials in Montana’s fastest growing county say the number of mental health and substance misuse related calls to 911 is going up. Since 2009, a training program has been trying to help first responders work with mental health professionals to better assist people facing a crisis.
On a recent weekday morning nearly 40 law enforcement officers, mental health professionals and clergy from Gallatin and Park counties wrapped up the Crisis Intervention Team Academy in Bozeman.
The week-long training aims to help first responders and other community members learn how to de-escalate situations related to mental health and substance misuse and better connect people in crisis to services. Participants put what they learned to the test by cycling through a series of simulations, ranging from someone considering suicide to a noise complaint.
The simulations often feel chaotic. In this one, a volunteer role player is walking back and forth holding a sword. A law enforcement officer tries to calm the situation while another quietly escorts the girlfriend out of the room.
Role player: “Nobody wants to listen.”
Law enforcement officer: “So nobody wants to listen to you? If you’d be willing to come with me, I could get someone who’d be willing to listen to you.”
CIT International, a non-profit organization, developed the training several decades ago. Gallatin County was the first to bring the training to Montana in 2009, and since then, it’s expanded to other parts of the state.
Jim Anderson, a captain with the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office and the former director for CIT Montana, says 911 calls here related to mental health and substance misuse are growing in step with population growth. The number of people in Gallatin County increased 25 percent over the last decade.
“In programs where they implement this, we see officer injuries reduced as a result of this program; we see injuries sustained by people suffering with mental illness reduced,” Anderson says.
Anderson says they’ve also seen a drop in the number of calls for SWAT teams to come in as back-up.
Ryan Mattson with Western Montana Mental Health Center says this is his third year as a facilitator at the CIT Academy in Bozeman. He says the training has improved the way local law enforcement interacts with the public.
“I’ve had lots of opportunities to see the sheriff’s office and Bozeman PD come through and do a fantastic job with our clients. The way that they can communicate with them, get them to build a good rapport so it’s not always a struggle to work with certain individuals,” Mattson says.
Jim Anderson with the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office says CIT training is available in most of the larger cities in Montana, but more work needs to be done to get it to communities in the rural parts of the state. He says that can be tough when resources are tight.