SARASOTA, Fla. -- Whether it’s the death of 5-year-old Phoebe Jonchuck -- thrown over the Skyway Bridge by her father -- or the mass shootings carried out on the FSU campus, or in a Colorado theater; all have one common thread: mental illness.
“It’s extremely common,” says Lt. Charles Kennif with the Sarasota Sheriff’s Office. Kennif teaches law enforcement officers how to identify someone with a mental illness. “The Crisis Intervention Team Training is founded completely on safety,” says Kennif.
Safety for the officer, the person in crisis, and those around them. Kennif teaches a 40-hour long course. He says, “It’s not a panacea, it’s another tool to use.”
The first step: erase the stigma of mental illness. Kennif says, “This is a medical condition not a moral choice.”
Kennif says each service call of a person with mental illness is different -- some require more listening.
“If the time and situation is right let the person vent, get the steam going, then talk them back down and get back to rationality,” describes Kennif.
In the case of schizophrenia, the officer may change his approach. He says, “If I’m talking or shouting at somebody, I may be just another voice. I may need to change my tactic; [maybe] talk lower or whisper to get their attention.”
According to the National Alliance for Mental Illness, two million people arrested each year have some type of mental illness. Fifteen percent are men and a third are women.
NAMI statistics also show 1 in 4 people killed in an officer-involved shooting has a serious mental illness.
Kennif says, “If in a crisis of mental illness, we don’t want to criminalize that person and have them go to jail.”
Instead, jail deputies can redirect a person towards mental health services.
The Sarasota Sheriff's Office reports about 20% of inmates are identified with a form of mental illness.
North Port Police and Sarasota Police also receive the CITT training in mental illness.
Pinellas County has Crisis Intervention Training as well. They have classes for patrol deputies, dispatchers, and corrections deputies.
Tampa and St. Pete also have this training and they are taught how to handle mental health issues.