SHREVEPORT, La. (KSLA) - In a classroom inside the Shreveport Regional Police Academy sits a new breed of police officer and firefighter. Shreveport first responders are getting instruction on how to identify, communicate and de-escalate situations involving people suffering a mental health crisis.
The program they’re undergoing is called Crisis Intervention Training, or CIT for short. It’s an innovative approach to helping those with mental disorders access medical treatment rather than arresting them due to their illness or related behavioral issues. CIT is also designed to reduce societal stigma associated with mental disorders and help first responders deal with trauma they might experience on the job.
So far, 60 Shreveport police officers and firefighters have completed the coursework and received CIT certification. The most recent class, comprised of 19 first responders, including a deputy jailer with the Bossier Parish Sheriff’s Office, was the first to receive the intense, hands-on training from men and women already serving with the Shreveport police and fire departments.
In northwest Louisiana, and especially in Bossier City and Shreveport, the lack of mental health services has resulted in law enforcement and paramedics serving as “street psychologists and social workers” on a growing number of calls in which people are experiencing a psychotic break.
As KSLA revealed in an original documentary entitled, “Breakdown: The Frontline Response to the Mental Health Crisis,” our first responders are ill-equipped for what has become a part of their daily duties. In fact, three men lost their lives in 2020 (Tommie McGlothen Jr., Johnathan Jefferson, and Jeremy Fox) following violent encounters with Shreveport and Bossier City police officers.
However, the film chronicles how the SPD and SFD decided to get proactive and launch an ambitious program to eventually train their entire forces in CIT.
In mid-March, SPD invited KSLA Chief Investigative Reporter Stacey Cameron to the Shreveport regional police academy to observe two days of the 40-hour program, which included lectures, film study, and role-playing exercises.
All the first responders taking part successfully completed the CIT training and at the end of the week, SPD officers involved learned that their department is working to put together the first mental health police detail in northwest Louisiana.