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Crisis Intervention Training gives law enforcement and social workers practice handling tough situations

Gavin Dahl
Center for Mental Health social worker Whitney Silva participates in a training exercise on February 25, 2022 led by retired Arapahoe County sheriff deputy Amir Stephen and Grand Junction police officer Isaac Gallegos, featuring professional actor Kevin Lowry.

Last week 20 members of law enforcement from Montrose and Delta police, and Montrose County and Delta County Sheriffs, joined staffers from the nonprofit Center for Mental Health, to experience Crisis Intervention Training in Delta. Local law enforcement agencies partner with CMH on what’s called a co-responder program, so mental and behavioral health professionals can help community members get the right help at the right time, keeping people in a mental health emergency out of jail, and freeing up police resources. De-escalation training is part of that partnership.

Retired sergeant Jeff Santelli and his coaches wrap up their week-long sessions with role-playing scenarios to give participants practice handling crisis situations. The training exercises allow officers to practice building rapport with the person in crisis, assessing the scene for safety, asking clarifying questions, labeling emotions, and staying positive. Coaches stop scenes halfway through to ask questions and offer suggestions so participants can evaluate what is working and what isn’t.

Isaac Gallegos is a veteran Grand Junction police officer who coaches for Santelli’s CIT trainings when they are nearby. Witnessing emotionally intense scenarios can lead observers to root for immediate disarming of those at risk of harming themselves or others, but Officer Gallegos says respecting the rights of individuals in crisis is a significant part of doing the job correctly. Gallegos adds officers are used to being scrutinized and even filmed during tense interactions, so press participation in crisis intervention training is encouraged.

Gavin Dahl is a writer and producer with a passion for community media. He worked for KVNF from July 2020 to July 2022. He won awards and recognition for his KVNF reporting from the Colorado Broadcasters Association and Society of Professional Journalists. His writing has been published by The Montrose Press, The Sopris Sun, Boulder Weekly, Raw Story, Radio Survivor, Boise Weekly, and The Austin American-Statesman. He graduated from The Evergreen State College with a BA in media production and community organizing.
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