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August 17, 2010

Pa. responders to learn mental illness strategies

By Vicky Taylor
The Public Opinion

FRANKLIN COUNTY, Pa. — About 160 police officers, emergency medical responders, magisterial district judges and other first responders to crises in Franklin County are attending classes this month to enhance the techniques they use to deal with people exhibiting signs of mental illnesses.

The four-hour workshops focus on de-escalation techniques to use when dealing with situations in which an individual is showing symptoms of mental illness, according to Alaina Ingels, a member of the county's Criminal Justice Advisory Board subcommittee.

The workshops are in conjunction with the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Pennsylvania. A total of 15 workshops are planned through Aug. 25, including both day and evening classes.

"We hope to accommodate the hectic 24/7 schedules of our police and other first responders by providing training over a variety of days and times," Ingels said.

Those attending the workshops will learn how to take a step back, evaluate the situation and determine how to handle it in the best manner while keeping public and personal safety a top priority.

Franklin County is the first county in Pennsylvania to schedule the training for its first responders and judicial officials, according to NAMI PA Executive Director Jim Jordan.

The organization has extensive experience training law enforcement officers across the state, from small to large police departments.

The team conducting Franklin County's training workshops include a former chief psychologist with the state Department of Corrections, a state police lieutenant and a former deputy secretary of the Department of Health.

Judge Richard Walsh, FCCJAB chairman, said the goal is to train as many first responders, including police officers and district judges, as possible.

"We have engaged all police chiefs and representatives from the district judges in the planning process and NAMI PA has incorporated their input into the trainings," Walsh said. "This support across the criminal justice system will enable the Franklin County criminal justice community to deal more appropriately with offenders having serious mental illnesses."

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