Grandview Heights police officers completing crisis-intervention training

Alan Froman
ThisWeek group
Grandview Heights Division of Police officer Arthur Heilman, pictured Jan. 13, was one of the first Grandview officers to go through the Crisis Intervention Team training with the Columbus Division of Police.

An initiative to have Grandview Heights Division of Police officers undergo Crisis Intervention Team training is paying off in a time when more people are stressing out due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

About half of the department's 19 officers have completed the 40-hour, weeklong training held at the Columbus Police Academy, police Chief Ryan Starns said.

"Our goal is to get that percentage up to 75% by the end of 2021," he said.

Ultimately, all Grandview officers will complete the course, which provides training and certification in crisis intervention, Starns said.

"We've definitely seen an increase in the number of calls and situations involving mental-health issues over the past year," he said. 

An increasing number of calls to the department are not residents asking for law-enforcement services, Starns said.

"They're people asking for help," he said.

The CIT course gives police officers training for assisting people who are experiencing mental trauma, suicidal thoughts, depression or drug and/or alcohol dependency, Starns said.

Police officers already are trained on how to deescalate a contentious encounter with a citizen who might be a suspect or victim of a crime, he said

"This goes way beyond that," Starns said. "It's helping us learn how to deescalate a situation that may lead a person to harm themselves or not seek the assistance beyond law enforcement that they need."

Grandview has at least two officers on duty during each shift who have completed the CIT training, he said.

"They can take the lead when there's a situation that requires crisis intervention," Starns said.

In one incident last year, CIT-trained officers were able to assist a resident who was expressing a desire to commit suicide, he said.

"They were at the wheel of their car, ready to drive off, and the officers were able to talk to them and get them to exit the car," Starns said.

Officer Arthur Heilman was able to use his CIT training to help prevent another potential suicide.

A woman was threatening to jump off a parking garage, he said.

"It was more than just talking her down," Heilman said. "The training helps you know what to say after that. You're able to guide them toward wanting to get help and give them suggestions for places they can go to get additional help.

"It's just a good feeling to be able to go that extra step," he said.

The training also has helped him during encounters with people on the autism spectrum, especially those whose behavior is going beyond what family members are used to, Heilman said.

"Before I went through the CIT training, I really didn't know much about autism," he said.

Now he recognizes and knows how to approach someone who is "stimming" (sensory stimulating behavior) and exhibiting repetitive body movements.

A CIT officer more easily can recognize what is happening and not mistake the movements for being threatening actions, Heilman said.

The training also can help with regular law-enforcement duties, including traffic stops, he said.

If he stops someone for speeding who isn't pleased to see him, Heilman said, the CIT training has provided him with methods to talk with and calm down the driver before the incident might escalate into a more confrontational – and for the citizen a more consequential – encounter, he said.

During the weeklong CIT training, Heilman said, he spent two days in the field with Columbus CIT police officers to put into practice what he had learned.

"The first day in the field, you're there more to observe, but on the second day, you step up, and you're the one who is interacting with the citizen, with the other officers observing you," he said.

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