NAMI Washtenaw’s Role in Behavioral Health Crisis Training for Law Enforcement in Michigan

By Bob Nassauer and Lisa deRamos

Endorsed by the Governor’s Mental Health Diversion Council, the state of Michigan is currently conducting several Behavioral Health Crisis training pilots for police, Community Mental Health first responders, and Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs). The training component of the Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) model has become the gold standard of behavioral health training for law enforcement. NAMI affiliates throughout the state, including NAMI Washtenaw (NAMI WC), are playing an important role in the two-day pilots that include four hours of online self-directed learning prior to the two days of in-person training. NAMI Michigan Executive Director, Kevin Fischer and Washtenaw County Sheriff, Jerry Clayton, are among the people championing this important effort.

The overall purpose of this powerful, thorough, and highly interactive training is to save and improve the lives of people living with serious mental health challenges while protecting the safety of the community, police and first responders*. More specifically, the training aims to:

  • Increase officer/first responder knowledge of mental health and psychiatric treatment, and
  • Improve recognition of psychiatric emergencies, de-escalation skills, and confidence in being able to handle difficult mental health crisis situations.

While safety is one of the main goals of this training, police and other first responders are encouraged to consider alternatives to incarceration such as transportation to treatment and mental health crisis centers, and to decrease use of force.

Ultimately, one of the goals of these pilots is for the training to become part of the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards (MCOLES), meaning that this training will be hard-wired into the training curriculum for all police officers and first responders in the state of Michigan.

NAMI WC’s Role So Far in Two of the Pilots

Pilots of this training were held in July and September 2021 at the Washtenaw Community College Police Academy.  During the first pilot—attended by cadets and newer police officers—NAMI WC Community Programs Coordinator, Lisa deRamos, and NAMI WC volunteer, Bob Nassauer, attended the entire training, and afterwards, provided feedback (almost all positive) to Eric Waddell. Near the end of this pilot, NAMI WC provided a panel of three speakers who did a superb job telling their stories and responding to questions: Andrea May, David Hulet, and Lisa deRamos. The pilot training Police Academy representative referred to this presentation as a “game changer,” and several officers came up to our panelists to thank them and ask follow-up questions.

In the second pilot—attended by more experienced officers from around the state and EMTs from Huron Valley Ambulance—John Clough and Bob Nassauer played the roles of people living with mental health challenges during four rounds of realistic roleplay simulations, though no guns or use of force were permitted. Then, near the end of the two-day training, we provided another panel of five speakers, all of whom did an outstanding job telling their story and responding to questions: Andrea May, David Hulet, Lisa deRamos, John Clough, and Andrew Posner.

Some highlights:

  • Lisa Gentz, Washtenaw Community Mental Health Program Administrator, co-led this training and did a truly wonderful job. Her knowledge and experience made a huge difference in terms of helping people empathize with people living with mental health challenges and their loved ones. The quote shared by Lisa Gentz on the first day: “People want to know that you care more than they care what you know,” really resonated.
  • The police officers in attendance were highly professional and very appreciative of what they were learning. In terms of doing a better job of managing the balance between safety and encouraging those in need to get help, the officers made a strong good-faith effort to learn new knowledge, skills, and attitudes toward helping people in crisis. 
  • In the second pilot, the EMTs in attendance were terrific at handling mental health crisis situations as they do this on a daily basis. During one of the roleplay simulations, an EMT asked Bob, who was playing the role of a dementia patient, “Do you like Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck?” When Bob asked during the debrief, where did that question come from, the EMT said, “I use it all the time because I think it helps just to get people talking.”
  • We truly appreciated the way stigma and discrimination were defined and articulated, as well as the emphasis on using person-centered language that retains the dignity of all persons.

We are honored to have been a part of these two pilot trainings and look forward to future opportunities to help with this important project.

For more information on this project please contact Training Manager, Eric Waddell at the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office: waddellj@ewashtenaw.org

*Program Overview:

Behavioral Health Emergency Partnership Training is a behavioral health training initiative to equip emergency responders with the tools they need to effectively recognize, respond, and mitigate a Behavioral Health Emergency. The Behavioral Health Emergency Partnership Training consists of three linked training segments, Pre-Course Online Training, Classroom Instruction and Scenario Based Training. The Behavioral Health Emergency Partnership Training was developed in collaboration with MCOLES and MDHHS as well as subject matter experts in law enforcement, Mental Health, EMS and Mental Health Advocacy. The material in this course is based, in-part, on training material from two previous State-funded trainings, MI-CIS and Managing Mental Health Crisis (MMHC). In addition, Michigan Law, MCOLES standards, academic research, and recognized best practices have been utilized and referenced in this training.

Managing Mental Health Crisis is

  • Designed specifically for Michigan first responders and crisis teams
  • Funded through a MCOLES competitive grant
  • Endorsed by the State of Michigan’s Diversion Council
  • MCOLES approved and meets with MCOLES recommended annual officer trainings.

Presenters:

Lt. Michael Marocco (Master Trainer) is the Detective Bureau Operations Lt. at the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office. Mike has been training MI first responders in mental health response topics for the last 4 years.

Lisa Gentz (Master Trainer) is a mental health professional and licensed clinical social worker with a Master’s Degree in Clinical/Medical Social Work from the University of Michigan.

For a more detailed overview of the program, please click here.

Bob and his family live in support of their 36-year old daughter who lives with a diagnosis of schizophrenia. He is a retired management consultant and former board member of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Washtenaw County. Bob continues as an active volunteer with the organization working on several projects. He also serves as a state trainer for the NAMI national signature programs Family-to-Family and Ending the Silence/Parents and Teachers as Allies.

Lisa deRamos serves as the Community Programs Coordinator for NAMI WC, is a trained and certified Peer-to-Peer class instructor, and a volunteer. She is passionate about mental health awareness and ending the stigma against mental health conditions. In her free time, Lisa enjoys crafting, going on nature hikes, and spending quality time with her loved ones and pets.

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