Police chief says crisis intervention program works

Fairfield resident Lynn Sausville is thankful for the Fairfield Police Department who came to her rescue mid-September.

?I have been afraid of the police for most of my life; now, I actually admire them,? she admitted.

Having dealt with bipolar disorder throughout her life, Sausville said she has experienced rough treatment during a manic crisis from law enforcement authorities in other states.

?Do you know how many times I?ve been handcuffed or grabbed?? she said. ?I hated the police.?

However now, Sausville has a different outlook about law enforcement, thanks to the positive experience she had with Fairfield police officers.

Sausville had a bad reaction to the sleeping aid Ambien. She said that instead of the drug calming her down, she had an opposite reaction.

Confused and disoriented, she soon found herself barefoot and dangerously walking along railroad tracks on her way to her friend?s place out of town for help.

?She was in crisis,? said Lt. Julie Harvey, explaining that the station had already received several calls from Sausville?s family members, alerting them that she needed help.

Police finally received a tip from a local business that Sausville was there.

?I was not detained, but given options like a human,? Sausville said of the way she was treated when officers arrived. ?I cannot thank the Fairfield Police Department enough for what they have done for me ... how many lives will they save because of a new program they learned about crisis prevention??

Last March, Lt. Julie Harvey and officer Brent Cook completed a Crisis Intervention Training in Johnson County. Harvey said the CIT program has made all of the difference in the world when it comes to assisting people experiencing a crisis.

Harvey said in the past, officers would determine whether or not a person planned to hurt themselves or someone else, if not, they would move on.

?Back in the day, we would have got back in the car and said, ?see ya,?? Harvey said. ?In the recent past, we would call Optimae.?

Now, with CIT training, officers have learned how to better evaluate an individual in crisis, so that better decision can be made on the individual?s behalf.

Police are also part of a larger team of mental health and health experts. Now, Optimae LifeServices has several appointments that are set aside daily for police related crisis calls.

?I?m really proud to say that it?s been effective,? said police chief David Thomas of CIT. ?That?s the neatest thing for me ... is that it?s working.?

Thomas said that officers had been routinely trained to respond to individuals experiencing heart attacks, trouble breathing or other health concerns, but that in the past, they had very little mental health training.

?Not everyone needs to go to the hospital,? Thomas said, further explaining that each crisis situation is different, and that with CIT, officers are able to calm subjects down, and make better determinations about where they might need to go.

Harvey agreed, and said that the training she had received helped to make a difference in recent crisis calls they have received.

?There?s only one bed for over 123,000 people in need,? Harvey said of the current state of mental health in Iowa. Although resources have been cut in half throughout the state, Harvey said the CIT training is a helpful component.

Three officers will be trained in crisis prevention, and Thomas said that those officers would be dedicated to responding to crisis calls.

Sausville said she felt like she had won the lottery, because trained CIT officers responded and were able to get her the help that she needed.

?Every state should have this training,? she said.