LEE'S SUMMIT, Mo.—Since 2001, officers with the Lee's Summit Police Dept. have received a special kind of preparation.
It's called Crisis Intervention Team - or CIT - training and it teaches officers how to deal with the mentally ill, specifically those engaged in criminal activity or posing a danger to themselves.
"This program does one great thing - it offers insight into mental illness for the officers where they gain empathy and understanding so they can better handle the situation," said CIT trained Lee's Summit Police Sgt. Brian Wilson.
This week, the Lee's Summit Police Dept. cerebrated ten years of the program and honored the original officers who voluntarily enrolled in it, including Chief Joe Piccinini.
In the past, anyone suspected of criminal activity would have been carted off to jail. But with the CIT program, officers are trained to use jail as a last resort for people in crisis.
While the Memphis, Tenn. Police Dept. started the program, Lee's Summit was the first in the state to embrace it. Now officers across the metro, Missouri and beyond have been CIT trained and certified.
"This truly is a win win situation," said Guyla Stidmon, National Alliance on Mental Illness or NAMI. "We can track a person from the time they come in crisis to getting them care. When before the only other option was to put them in jail."
Lee's Summit police were the first in the state to be trained. After Lee's Summit officers became CIT certified, they began training other departments, including police Blue Springs, Independence, Kansas City and evenSt. Louis.
In the last decade more than 1,600 in Missouri have learned how to deal with the mentally ill and get them the help they need.
"Rather than putting people in jail, it redirects them to the appropriate treatment," said Stidmon. "It can alleviate incarceration many times."
Because jails are not equipped to handle the mentally ill and they even exacerbate the problem in many cases.
Meanwhile, Lee's Summit police hope to train more officers and start training first responders like firefighters and paramedics, so they too can help those in need find healing.