Meridian Star

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September 22, 2012

Graduates for mental health

MERIDIAN —     Jail is not a good place for anyone with a mental illness, most law enforcement officials agree.

    Friday, 14 law enforcement officers, seven each from the Lauderdale County Sheriff's Department and the Meridian Police Department, graduated from a program designed to help them deal with those with mental health issues, and hopefully keep them out of jail.

    "This is the culmination of law enforcement, mental health officials, and the community coming together for the common goal of how best to deal with people suffering from mental health issues," said Ward Calhoun, chief deputy of the LCSD. "On a daily basis law enforcement and other first responders come in contact with a mental health crisis. This Crisis Intervention Team training addresses those issues in such a way as to better serve the community and the individual who is suffering from the mental health problem."

    The program has been in the making for three-and-a-half years and is the culmination of efforts by local law enforcement and mental health officials. Although a Department of Justice grant funded the training, creation of the program has been credited to a Meridian native who spent his law enforcement career with the Memphis (Tenn.) Police Department.

    "This idea for the program was brought about in part by a shooting incident in the early '80s," said Sam Cochran, a retired major with the Memphis Police Department. "We recognized the need for a specialized training program that addressed the issues pertaining to mental health individuals and in 1998 the program was first implemented."

    The CIT programs now number more than 2,500 in more than 45 states and several foreign countries, including Sweden and Australia. The emphasis of CIT is training first responders on how to interact with people with mental health issues. Mental health facilities such as Weems Community Mental Health Center in Meridian have partnered with law enforcement to implement the program.

    CIT provides the officers the training necessary to deal directly with those suffering from mental health issues.

    "It gives the officer another tool in which to better serve the community," Meridian Mayor Cheri Barry said. "This is all about partnerships and this is my kind of teamwork."

    "The community represented here today should be commended for coming together on this issue and welcoming these officers who are now specialists," Cochran said.

    Officers who graduated the 40-hour training from the Meridian Police Department were POFC Howard J. Cole, SPO Smantha Gearlds, SPO Cloist Jimison, Sr., SPO James LaGoy, SPO Heather Luebbers, SPO Krishonda Null, and Cpl. Travis Ruffin.

    LCSD deputies who graduated were, Lt. Paul E. Earley II, Dep. Brandon W. Harper, Lt. Louis A. Hatcher, Dep. David McDonald, Dep. Christopher J. McFarland, Dep. Tim Robinson, and Lt. Ruston A. Russell.

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