Advocates focus on mental health training for officers in rural communities

PERU, Ind. -- An effort to make sure law enforcement in communities both large and small know how to handle those dealing with mental health crises is underway in Indiana.

It’s coming into the spotlight after Peru police said they saved a man who was contemplating jumping off of a bridge and streaming it live on Facebook. Officers said a relative showed them the stream.

“I could tell there was someone dangling off a bridge,” said Sgt. Samantha Raber.

Officers quickly sprang into action.

“I was able to just get out and talk with him and try to get as close to him as he would let me,” Officer Colten Pitner said.

“I took it upon myself to approach him slowly and at which point I was able to grab him and pull him down to safety,” Officer Shawn Swinford said.

Officers said the outcome is thanks in part to their training.

“We do a lot of training with our department, basically suicide scenarios, I would say crisis,” Raber said.

But Monday evening’s scenario isn’t uncommon to them or law enforcement across the state.

“We feel like law enforcement deserves to be prepared for that and to feel confident in their skills and that the families and individuals deserve someone showing up who’s gonna make the situation better,” Marianne Halbert said.

Halbert is the criminal justice director at National Alliance on Mental Illness Indiana. The group helps communities form crisis intervention teams, but Halbert said most are in larger cities. She said they’re ramping up their efforts in rural communities.

“A lot of it is just based on small size and often the small budget that these agencies are working off of,” she said.

Halbert said a bill signed into law this year would help establish a technical assistance center for C.I.T. and aid in statewide coordination and support.

“We think that if we can get the funding so that we can increase staff and trainers and resources and develop some assessment tools and things like that we’re gonna have a stronger program across the state,” she said.

While Peru police said it doesn’t have formal crisis intervention training, it plans to look into more opportunities in the future. Right now, officers said they’re thankful for Monday evening’s outcome.

For more information on suicide prevention and what NAMI recommends in a crisis click here.

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