Helping police respond

July 12, 2010 at 8:17 pm

LC Crisis Intervention Team earns national praise, award
The cooperative team of law enforcement and health care professionals helps treat the mentally ill.

Lt. David Anders


Police work isn’t just for the cops, it’s a communitywide job, said Lt. David Anders with the Lake Charles Police Department.

On Friday, Anders received the International CIT (Crisis Intervention Team) Coordinator Award at the CIT International Conference in San Antonio.

The 26-year veteran helped develop the local program.

On the law enforcement side, officers and deputies take a 40-hour training course to learn how to identify and safely deal with people with various mental illnesses.

In his current position as CIT coordinator, Anders said he serves as a single point of contact for police, mental health and medical officials. His counterpart at the Calcasieu Parish Sheriff’s Office is Cpl. Darek Ardoin.

“We mainly try to make sure each agency has what it needs, and we put training sessions together,” Anders said.

On the medical side, Lake Charles Memorial Hospital’s emergency room and mental health department operate a triage unit that includes overnight observation and has doctors, mental health specialists and registered nurses on call 24 hours a day.

Anders said this is a better alternative than locking up a person who needs medical treatment.

Spurred by tragedy
It’s been an up-and-down journey for the department and the program.

Anders has been involved in planning and implementation of the program from its beginning in 2004.

The push to start up the program was the result of a tragedy.

Lake Charles Police Chief Don Dixon had attended a conference in Memphis, Tenn., where the CIT concept was developed.

“He asked me to look into bringing the program to Southwest Louisiana, and as we were doing that we had the shooting with Mr. Ned at the high rise,” Anders said.

In the November 2004 incident, Edward Ned Jr., a mentally ill man, was shot and killed by Lake Charles police during a standoff in which he reportedly attacked an officer with a knife. “That kind of brought everything back to light,” Anders said.

Anders, Ardoin and local mental health advocates attended the Memphis Police Department’s training program.

“We brought everything back to Dr. (Cameron) Melville in McNeese’s psychology program and asked him to help us replicate the training,” Anders said.

As Dr. Melville mapped out the training for officers, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit, setting everything back about 14 months, Anders said.

In October 2006, one month before the first CIT training class took place, a second mentally ill resident was fatally shot by a police officer.

Trent Buckins, 29, was shot in front of Reynaud Middle School. The involved officer, then Cpl. Kimberly Almirall, claimed Buckins lunged at her gun.

“So now we’d had two uses of deadly force by us on mentally ill individuals,” Anders said.
The first class, with 14 officers from the Lake Charles Police Department and Calcasieu Parish Sheriff’s Office, began the following month.

Since then, McNeese has held 12 classes and trained more than 300 officers from agencies throughout Southwest Louisiana.

“We have made it available to any agency in the state who wants to send people,” Anders said.

Dispatchers go through an eight-hour course on how to handle calls about someone who is suicidal or mentally ill.

“We make sure the dispatchers know it’s OK to ask if the person has a history of mental illness or if they are suicidal,” Anders said. “We want the officers to know what their (the suspects’) intentions are.”

Struggles for funding
The triage center was set up at Lake Charles Memorial with a $5.4 million federal block grant. It paid for the assessment and 23-hour observation unit for three years, after which officials hoped the state would take over.

Those hopes were dashed as the state faced a nearly $600 million budget shortfall because of declining revenues.

From June 2009 to February 2010, the unit was inactive, leaving police to revert to what Anders described as a revolving door for the mentally ill. Subjects would be taken to a local hospital to be treated and released.

“Our other choice would be to lock them up or take them to family members,” Anders said.

Even though the current program faces funding issues, mental health advocates said the program needs to expand, adding social workers to perform follow-up work and offer transitional housing, education and job training.

In February, the Calcasieu Parish Police Jury approved $500,000 that — with another $200,000 from the state Office of Mental Health — should keep the unit open through September.

While the program remains on shaky ground, Anders is immensely proud of his work.

“Since this started, about 6,000 to 10,000 people have gone to the triage unit, and we’ve established a rapport with the nurses and psychiatric staff,” Anders said. “All of this makes a difference.”

The program has received national acclaim, and the state Department of Health and Hospitals uses Lake Charles as a model for crisis receiving centers.

Anders also said the program has had a significant influence on the police department.

“In the beginning, some older officers saw this as a touchy-feely program and, to an extent, it is,” Anders said. “But you’ve got people getting treatment in one place instead just sitting in jail overnight.”

“When I started in law enforcement, the mindset was that no one outside of the department could tell me how to do my job, but now we’ve brought everyone together: police, mental health specialists, pastors and educators,” Anders said.



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