In 1997, I completed my formal training at the Tennessee Academy of Law Enforcement in Donelson- Tennessee. A year later, I completed my training in Crisis Intervention with the department of Memphis Police. The training entailed handling people with disorders of substance abuse and mental illness. As a Crisis intervention Officer, my duties were to identify individuals with drug abuse problems or disorders, such as schizophrenia and assist them to get the required appropriate treatment before they caused harm to themselves or others. Given the sensitivity of this matter, I worked directly with hospitals and facilities dealing with mental health issues. My assigned duty was to prevent suicide and hostage negotiation. This discussion explores my personal working experience with individuals in need, like those experiencing problems of mental health. The discussion also provides an overview of schizophrenia and other mental health complications.
Overview of Crisis Intervention Team
A Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) is a working community involving partnership with family members and consumers of mental health services. The goal of the program is to set an excellent standard for the officers in relation to treating mentally ill individuals. This is attained through instituting individual responsibility for every occurrence and the results’ overall accountability. The officers are accorded the best available training quality and become part of a team specialized to respond at any time to a crisis. The teams work in unison with the community to resolve every situation in a way that demonstrates concern for the well being of the citizen. In 1988, the department of Memphis Police collaborated with the providers of mental health, two universities (University of Tennessee and University of Memphis) and National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) – Memphis Chapter (Dattilio & Freeman, 2007).
The partnership was to train, implement, and organize a specialized unit. The purpose of this creative and unique alliance was to develop a more understandable, intelligent, and safe approach to the event of mental crisis. The genesis of the CIT in the department of Memphis Police was through this community effort. From every Uniform Patrol Precinct, volunteer officers exist in the CIT and are ready during crisis calls to handle complex issues related to mental illness. CIT officers also work as patrol officers in their regular performance of their duty assignment. The CIT officers undergo specialized instructional training under the supervision of family advocates, consumer groups of mental health, and providers of mental health (Dattilio & Freeman, 2007). The training instills confidence to CIT officers to offer a more humane and calm approach, while maintaining 24-7 coverage.
Mental health is more of an optimal level of feeling, thinking, and relating to others than just being without mental illness. Individuals who were mentally healthy tend to have better social relationships, productivity, and medical health. Mental illness refers to all mental disorders, which are diagnosable. It is characterized by abnormalities in feelings, behaviors, and thought patterns. Common mental illness types include disorders from behavioral, depressive, substance- abuse, and anxiety (Compton, & Kotwicki, 2007). Mental illness has no single cause but arises from a complex group of environmental, psychological, and genetic factors. Thoughts, substance use, behaviors, and moods that interfere with the ability of an individual to function well socially or physically are mental illness characteristics. Mental illness cannot just be tested through a single test. For this reason, the diagnosis of mental disorder is undertaken through collecting of comprehensive information on family, medical, and mental health. Mental health gives an individual the ability to cope with traumatic or stressful situation by balancing emotions and stress. The ability to recognize and express emotions properly assists one from being stuck in anxiety, negative mood conditions, and depression. Overly use of substance can alter and negatively affect the proper functioning of the brain. Some of the problems related to mental health include schizophrenia, anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and bipolar disorder. Proper diagnosis of the type of mental problem is crucial in order to ensure the patient receives proper treatment.
Schizophrenia refers to a chronic and severe brain disorder, which affects thoughts, action, and perception of a person towards the world. It makes it hard for an individual to think clearly, differentiate between real and unreal, function normally, relate to others, and manage emotions. People with schizophrenia have lost touch with reality significantly given their reality perception is altered. They may hear or see non-existent things, speak in ways that are strange or confusing, feel they are under constant watch or believe that other people are out to harm them. In response to difficulties, to negotiate the daily life activities’ schizophrenia patients may act out of fear and confusion or withdraw from the rest of the world. A person suffering from schizophrenia may exhibit several signs and symptoms. These include but not limited to hallucinations, delusions, disorganized behavior, disorganized speech, and lack of healthy behavior. Depending on the person, there is dramatic variation in the signs and symptoms of the disease in both severity and pattern. Schizophrenia has no cure, but with medical advancement, it can be treated and the signs and symptoms managed. Schizophrenia is mostly common amongst males from the adolescent age, although women are also equally affected.
Two years ago, there was a young man who is accused of trespassing and domestic terrorism; however, instead of the Judge sentencing him to jail, Justice Karen Trent sent Brady McKay to the hospital given he had been diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic. Brady escaped from the hospital, where he was receiving treatment because the medication was hindering him from ‘hearing voices’ and he ‘needed’ direction. He was extremely grateful for Judge Trent and kept on writing her letters warning her that she had various enemies, but he, Brady, would protect her with a sword given to him by the creator. Brady believed that he was sent to this world to protect Judge Trent because she was one of the few good people on earth. Therefore, after receiving numerous disturbing letters, Judge Trent reported the matter for investigation to the Memphis Police Department. Given the accused was suffering from a brain disorder; the case was forwarded to the Crisis Intervention Department and assigned to me. Judge Trent did not want Brady arrested but confined in a hospital in order for him to receive the relevant medication and to prevent him from harming others or himself. During Brady’s stay at the hospital, he was close to a nurse, whom he confided in, and I suspected the nurse knew his whereabouts. After convincing the nurse, Mary Cooper, that I had Brady’s best intentions at heart, she agreed to take me to where Brady was, although she was hesitant because she felt the need to protect Brady whom he knew was harmless although sick. I took a picture of Judge Trent with me and together with a colleague went to search for Brady, who was staying in an abandoned warehouse. The building was full of pictures of Judge Trent as an angel with wings and a sword. I knew Brady’s condition was becoming more severe; hence, I required constant careful persuasion techniques. He referred to the picture of Judge Trent as the healer, hence; I had to trick him that the healer has sent us to bring him to her house in order for them to discuss the way forward. After showing him the picture of Judge Trent, he was convinced and agreed to be taken to the hospital. He said he could hear voices tell him that he ought to protect Judge Trent and kill her enemies. This implies that Brady was willing to kill anyone he perceived as the enemy of the’ healer’. It took the intervention of Judge Trent to have Brady committed to a psychiatric hospital and for him to agree to take his medication.
When the schizophrenic patients take their medications regularly as mandated, the signs subside to a controlled level. Only 1 out 5 patients have their signs and symptoms completed eliminated; hence, making a full recovery. Brady‘s situation was disturbing; he had good intentions of appreciating a Judge who sent him to have medical treatment instead of jailing him. However, his approach of protecting Judge Trent was disturbing and scared her off with the letters written in a strange language.
Schizophrenia is a medical condition that can happen to happen to anybody. There was a colleague of mine at the department who stopped taking a bath or changing clothes and regularly complained that our supervisor was constantly spying on him using the CCTV cameras. The symptoms were just starting to appear; given they were acute, so we just assumed he had a bad day, until when he took a metal chair to destroy the CCTV cameras in the building. Finally, it dawned on us that he was suffering from schizophrenia. It is devastating especially in this nature of the job, dealing with individuals with mental conditions, only for a close colleague to undergo the same. It breaks your spirit and you start questioning a lot about yourself and life, but it motivates you to continue doing your work the best way you can in order to help other people because the future is uncertain. Schizophrenic patients are not always dangerous or harmful, but there are times when they act out in response jot the voices they are regularly hearing or as attempts of people to stop ‘following’ or ‘watching’ them.
There are varied reasons why people resort to substance use. For some individuals it is peer pressure, others intend to hide their pain, while others intend to reduce their level of stress or depression. Substance abuse is often seen as preferable solution to deal with whatever issues the user is facing. Substance use results into overreliance or dependency by the user on the substance; it impairs judgment and reasoning (Compton, & Kotwicki, 2007). This makes the users of substance abuse prone to crime and can easily harm themselves and other people. Overreliance on the substance implies that the user cannot properly function without the substance and can even die. People under the influence of drugs commit most of the heinous acts because they stop reasoning usually and some start hallucinating.
A young lady once called the Poison control and made a weird inquiry on the number of Advil that an individual could take before it takes her life. The line went dead when she was asked whether she was being suicidal. This was one of the calls that we get on the job from people in crisis, alone, or desperate. Together with my two colleagues, we were dispatched to the lady’s apartment, which was a few miles away from our Memphis Police station in Tennessee. We coaxed our away into her apartment that seemed rather quiet and found the lady lying on the floor of her room. I asked her in a smooth but firm voice if she had taken some of the pills, which were inside a tin she was holding in her hand. Her response was that no one really cared if she were to die or live. When I told her that I cared, she brushed it off claiming that she did not believe, and I had to reassure her that I did. My partner Officer Jill Scott added a voice to say he did too, before persuading her to hand him the bottle of pills, which she did. However, we realized she had taken quite a number of them and had to rush her to the nearby hospital, where she was put under observation. The lady had attempted suicide because of depression. It was difficult to ascertain the cause of her depression. However, I was just relieved that she decided to make a call and that we reached her apartment before she could swallow all her Advil pills.
Hostage negotiation process is all about psychology. In order for a negotiator to be successful in a crisis, he or she must possess practical psychological skills. In any typical hostage situation, lives are at looming risk of death at the hands of a suicidal, delusional, homicidal, and cold-blooded, drug fueled, or depressed hostage taker. This scenario can occur in the midst of a family or workplace environment, which is uncontrolled and chaotic. Hostage crisis resolution can take several hours or days of extremely intense and focused negotiation and calls for the use of nearly every strategy of skilled communication in the skill box of crisis intervention (Dattilio & Freeman, 2007). The sole purpose of negotiation is to ensure the situation is resolved without loss of life. In a hostage crisis, the most dangerous periods are categorized into three periods. First is the opening 15-45minutes when the panic and confusion are considerably at the peak. Secondly, when the hostage takers are surrendering, their ambivalence, lack of coordination, and strong emotion among the members of the crisis team and the hostage takers can change a successful negotiation to bad resolution. Lastly, the tactical assault in hostage rescue bears the greatest casualty rate for two reasons that are interrelated. The necessity of tactical intervention is an indication that negotiation has failed and that violence against the hostages is either imminent or has occurred. In case of a firefight, the result of confusion and panic will leave the hostages inadvertently injured or killed.
The most memorable hostage situation was about a man named Tim, who had quit his job to take care of his two children because the wife was suffering from cancer. All their savings had been depleted by the cancer treatment, which proved expensive for this middle class family. The incident is memorable because the daughter of the hostage taker shared a name with my daughter and they were both five years old. In addition, my wife had also been diagnosed with cervical cancer, but since it was in the early stages, it was treated. Therefore, I had a personal connection with this case. Tim became desperate because the wife’s situation was not getting any better despite the costly treatment. His stress had compelled him to resort to substance abuse because he had a sick wife, two toddlers to take care of, no job, or source of income. The only hope for the wife was an experimental treatment, a teaching and referral hospital was to conduct. Tim approached the lead surgeon in the hospital to have the wife undergo the treatment, but he was turned down that the hospital was only going to have two cancer patients for the treatment, and they were already chosen.
Attempts to reason with the lead lady surgeon were ignored. Tim became so hopeless and depressed. He used the money from the sale of his car to spy on the surgeon and eventually discovered the surgeon had two teenage children and husband. He broke into the house one evening before the surgeon got home and took hostage of the husband and children. Tim was armed and managed to handcuff the family members before making a call to the surgeon. His demands were simple, failure to allow the wife to take the experimental treatment and the three members of the family die. When the surgeon called the police and the crisis intervention, I was part of the negotiation team. It was a sad operation; you could tell the pain and desperation in Tim’s voice, who was the hostage taker. Tim was serious and had even implanted a couple of grenades around the house in case the police were involved. He was adamant the surgeon’s family would be only released after the wife had undergone the treatment. The surgeon tried to explain that the experimental treatment was due in two days, and they would include the wife, but that would not change the Tim’s mind. He had hit the surgeon’s husband on the head to prove he could hurt. As the lead negotiator, I had to seek a better way to assure Tim that the wife would be accorded the treatment especially after discussion with the hospital chief executive officer and the lead surgeon, but he was adamant. Police officers were injured when the grenade exploded. I realized the issue was intense and had to get the sick wife and daughter to talk to him. He was so touched; he broke down, and you could see the man was in a bad state of mind. He surrendered when the wife decided to come to the scene from the hospital with their two children. The surgeon and the family agreed not to file any charges, given he did not harm anyone. He was committed to a psychiatric hospital, and the wife accepted to undergo the experimental treatment and was cured. I saw a man who was so willing to do anything for the family like Tim; however, he had to undergo counseling.
Working as a Crisis Intervention officer has made me a better person because it has given me a completely new perception towards life. The use of psychology is fundamental in the enforcement of the law. As an officer, I can without doubt state that, there are individuals who commit crime, but are better off in a psychiatric hospital than in jail. This is because they require the treatment more than the punishment. Nobody is prone to mental illness; therefore, it is essential to take care of our mental health. Crisis intervention, there are highs and low moments. A memorable low moment was losing a colleague I had worked with for over five years helping mentally ill individuals to schizophrenia, and that affected me greatly. However, you are encouraged whenever you go out on duty and save the life of an individual before committing suicide or murder. Tim’s hostage crisis is still my best memorable event as a crisis intervention officer because it restored my faith and hope in humanity. People with unsound mind have no idea they are committing a crime, and for those who do, they are convinced they are committing the crime for the greater good. In this regard, it is essential for all departments of police in the country and even worldwide to have a crisis intervention center in order to deal with individuals who are mentally ill.
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