HANCOCK COUNTY — The work law enforcement officers do inside the Hancock County Jail can become dangerous if situations get out of hand. Officials note some 80% of inmates are dealing with some form of mental health issue.

It’s one of the reasons jail officer Desiree Baldwin signed up to take the Hancock County Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) held at the Sheriff’s Department last week.

The 40-hour classes are open to all county first responders who are looking to understand the mindset needed to deal with mental health issues in the community. The week-long classes are designed to prepare police officers and first responders in their response to people experiencing crises related to behavioral health conditions including mental health, substance-use disorders and intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Officers like Baldwin, who has six and a half years of experience working behind bars in the county and at the Pendleton Reformatory, say jail officers run across all types of inmates, meaning the officers must be prepared for everyone and every kind of situation.

“Going through this training is really helping me,” Baldwin said. “I’ve seen a lot behind bars and here our jail navigation programs are helping some inmates, but some don’t take advantage of the help and can easily spin into a mental health crisis.”

Baldwin, who stands over 6 feet tall, noted that she’s taller than many inmates and has learned the importance of getting eye level and using the proper words to try and deescalate situations with inmates in crisis.

Amanda Hinkle, local systems coordinator with Hancock Health, hosted the CIT class for the county first responders. She noted law enforcement responds to mental health calls throughout the county more times than not, and they need to know how to recognize mental health situations when they arrive on the scene.

“The goal is to always put the person in crisis at ease and in turn connect them to real help,” Hinkle said.

Hinkle noted police officers and all first responders are in the “helping profession” and while none are asked to be a therapist, they are human and have the chance to help others in crisis.

“They can be empathetic, understanding and offer someone in trouble real hope and that’s the most important,” Hinkle said.

Hinkle and some 40 people worked diligently to prepare the 40-hour class, giving the first responders skills to use and even letting them role play crisis situations. Those who took the class learned skills such as dealing with mental illness in children, working with veterans, working with the homeless and even how to handle a person with dementia.

County Law enforcement agencies took part in the annual Crisis Intervention Team training at the Sheriff’s Department. Tom Russo | Daily Reporter

One of the sessions was a Q&A with Greenfield Police Department DARE officer Danny Williams, who intervened in a mental health crisis that shut down I-70 in November 2023 after a man threatened to jump from an overpass.

Williams told the CIT classroom it was all about trying to find a way to communicate with the man in crisis, who Williams saved from jumping that day.

Fortville Police Department officer Phillip Allen said that while CIT training might seem like it should be one of the first things an officer on the road learns about, in reality, it is not. Allen said it’s best for patrol officers to have a few years under their belt of learning standard police safety measures before they try to master crisis intervention skills.

“The reality with police officers is scene safety, and learning how to manage that is most important,” Allen said. “If they’re not careful, CIT training can put an officer in danger if they put CIT first before following the safety and control of a scene. An officer needs to have muscle memory on that first.”

While some officers may look at CIT as another tool on their belt to keep the community safe, Allen says he’d rather first responders use the crisis training to add a new mindset.

“It’s not something you never put down, where tools only come out when you need them,” Allen said. “This type of learning can be used for life.”

That’s why Hinkle and officials opened up the Crisis Intervention Training to other first responders like fire fighters and county officials who work with those suffering mental health and behavior issues.

Michael Gayle is a case manager for Hancock County Superior Court 1’s Behavioral Court. He works with at least 15 different people in the court who are working to get their lives back on track and said taking part in the CIT is eye opening.

“The subjects they’re going over and offering advice on are outstanding,” Gayle said.

Gayle says after working as a court bailiff and now a case manager, it’s easy to see many of the people who end up in the legal system are either dealing with mental health issues or substance abuse.

“If we can change a life and help people recover, well that’s what we want to do, but it has to be identified first,” Gayle said. “Unfortunately, for many of the people we deal with in the legal system, it’s their last step before prison.”

County Law enforcement agencies took part in the annual Crisis Intervention Team training at the Sheriff’s Department. Tom Russo | Daily Reporter

For Greenfield Fire Territory Capt. Shawn Booker he said he felt it was important as a first responder to explore the training.

“For years, I’ve always heard, ‘Hurt people hurt people,’ so if we can help just one person there will be one less hurting person and maybe we can stop some of the hurt going on in our community,” Booker said.

While he noted fire department officials may only run into mental and emotional health issues on 10% to 15 % of their runs, that doesn’t mean they should ignore them.

“This is one of the reasons I felt it was so important for organizers to bring in all first responders in the community and the outreach groups like FUSE, The Landing, and the Hope House in so that we as a community can start getting people in need some help,” Booker said. “We’ve got to know where to send people in need.”

Hinkle wanted to remind community members experiencing mental or emotional crisis to call either 988 or 911 if they are someone they know is in need.

“We want to avoid handcuffing and taking people to jail if it’s a mental health issue,” Hinkle said. “We want to see people get help.”