Plans take shape for Greenville Co. crisis training


"I came out of three years of very severe bipolar episodes and suicidal level depressions," Paton Blough said.

Blough is a mental health advocate and is open about his past interactions with law enforcement.

"I was hospitalized four times, three of those arrests went violently and I was tased by police," he said.

Blough, Captain Stacey Owens from Greenville Police Department, and officials with the National Alliance for Mental Health (NAMI) joined forces to see to it that all police officers become CIT trained - Crisis Intervention Training.

Blough said one incident making headlines back in August 2010 changed his world and the city of Greenville. Greenville police officers were called, after family of Andrew Torrez said he needed help. When officers responded, the situation escalated and Torrez was tased and later passed away.

Blough said inside the Greenville County Public Safety meeting Monday, the incident scared him. "I honestly had the thought that that could have been me."

Captain Stacey Owens, GPD CIT coordinator, contributed to the conversation to explain what has worked and what hasn't when it comes to CIT training in the police department.

"The Greenville Police Department started this back in 2010, it's not something you can do overnight," Owens said.

Now NAMI officials and members of county council suggest a CIT unit for the Greenville County Sheriff's Office. The group suggest also having a commanding staff deputy to oversee the unit, similar to Owens in the police department.

"The most successful CIT programs have a sworn officer that is really leading that program," Blough said.

Officials said the deputy should be someone who is compassionate, can relate to those in a mental health crisis and that shows an outreach in the community.

In addition, officials are requesting dispatchers be CIT trained. Officials said it is less expensive and less time consuming to train those who are the first to respond to a 911 call, rather than a deputy on the road.

NAMI said CIT training revolves around de-escalation techniques. They suggest simply changing a tone of voice, saying "I" statements, instead of "you" statements can make a huge difference when dealing with someone in crisis.

"The officer instead of coming in with guns drawn, just say 'Hey man, What's up, you're having a problem tonight, let's talk about it,' and sit down so that the person is not as threatened." Dr. Jim Hayes said.

A CIT training course is about 40 hours long and would give deputies an opportunity to speak with people like Blough, who have lived through a crisis situation from the other side.

Public Safety Committee Chairman Rick Roberts said, details revolving around the budget are still in the works and will be discussed at a later day. NAMI South Carolina said because CIT training is in such high demand statewide, funds are currently stretched thin. The organization is hoping for an increase in budget to help fund this county project.

"I think the timing is right, and as counsel we want to move forward," Rick Roberts said. "There's nothing more important than public safety and quality of life and having compassion for our citizens."

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