WINCHESTER — Police Cpl. Nathan J. Morris and Sgt. Chaz Niang were honored on Thursday for putting their Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) skills to use.
The officers received "challenge coins" from Northwestern Community Services, an area drug treatment and mental health services provider that holds CIT certification classes for local police departments. The officers are the eighth and ninth officers to receive the awards since Northwestern began CIT classes in 2009, according to Donna Jeanne C. Trillio, Northwestern's CIT coordinator.
Trillio told about 20 officers receiving training who were present for the awards ceremony that the skills they learn help reduce violence and stigma about mental illness.
"Most importantly, you have the potential to impact the person's own perspective on their mental illness," she said. "Because when you live with stigma, you buy into the stigma. And you're less likely to get treatment."
The training is designed to help people experiencing a mental health crisis get help. And while the vast majority of people in crisis are non-violent, the training helps officers deescalate volatile situations where there is potential for violence.
Officers undergo 40 hours of training to become certified. The training includes how to develop rapport with people in crisis and includes learning what to listen for, what to say and how to display non-threatening body language.
Fifty-three of the Winchester Police Department's 74 officers are CIT-certified. All of Berryville's nine officers are as well, along with eight of the Clarke County Sheriff's Office's 22 full and part-time deputies and 27 of the Frederick County Sheriff's Office's 148 deputies.
Niang, a 32-year-old officer hired in 2015, was honored for an incident in the Crisis Intervention Training Assessment Center at Winchester Medical Center on Oct. 3. The assessment center, known as CITAC, is where people under eight-hour Emergency Custody Orders are dropped off by police for mental health evaluations by Northwestern personnel.
A man under an ECO became disturbed and Niang was unable to talk him down and had to physically subdue him. However, neither the man nor Niang were seriously injured in the scuffle due to the restraint Niang displayed. Trillio, who is also the CITAC coordinator, said Niang also prevented the man from hurting a Northwestern staffer who was nearby as well some of her colleagues.
"He managed to contain the patient even when the patient was actively throwing punches," said Trillio, who observed video of the altercation. "The size of this patient was significant and I have no doubt that Sgt. Niang's actions kept Mary and the other staff from potential serious injury."
Morris, a 34-year-old officer hired in 2011, was honored for defusing an incident on Oct. 5 at a Grafton location at 120 Bellview Ave. The area schools, run by Grafton Integrated Health Network, serve children with autism and other mental and physical disabilities. A 9-year-old boy had become convinced he was going to be shot and had tried to kick out a window.
A month earlier, the boy had become violent, leading officers to handcuff him while taking him for treatment. However, Morris was able to develop rapport with the boy by talking to him about cars. He was able to drive the boy in a police cruiser for treatment without incident.
"He made such a difference in this impressionable youth's mind about how the situation could be handled," Deputy Chief Kelly S. Rice said, reading from a written statement about the incident. "He was very patient, kind and respectful to the youth."
Morris and Niang said after the ceremony that they use their CIT skills daily. They said the training has helped them become more patient and learn more about the types of medication and treatment mentally ill people need.