Law enforcement members learn important crisis training

PUNXSUTAWNEY — Police, corrections and probation officers from Jefferson and Clearfield counties recently graduated from The Right Turn Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training that was held at the IUP Punxsutawney campus.

The Right Turn Program is a joint effort of the Clearfield and Jefferson County Criminal Justice Advisory boards, said John Brown, instructor and police officer for Clearfield and Punxsutawney.

Brown said the purpose of the program is to teach officers how to handle people who are in crisis situations or have behavioral problems. 

"The program also teaches first responders how to approach a situation without having to arrest someone who might have a behavioral issue," Brown said, adding that officers, at times, end up having to physically restrain mentally ill patients.

"This will help cut down on officer injury, plus cut back on having more people put in jail who don't belong there and receive no help at all," Brown said.

Tom Elbel, Jefferson County jail warden, said CIT is a major benefit for his corrections officers who have completed the course.

"CIT helps in handling situations that could possibly turn violent in the jail," Elbel said.

CIT has been around in other states, Elbel said, but it is brand new to Pennsylvania, and this is the first time he had sent any of his officers for the training.

He said he had three corrections officers that graduated from the training, and he has 30 more officers that will also undergo training.
Vincent McGinnis, Clearfield Borough Police chief, said CIT is valuable to his officers, especially when mental health issues are involved at an emergency situation.

Tom Fedigan, Punxsutawney Borough Police chief, said CIT came highly recommended.

Punxsutawney Borough Police part-time officer (John) Brown was one of the instructors and took the training two years ago, Fedigan said.

"He came to me and said how it literally changed how he approached law enforcement," Fedigan said, adding that when the class was scheduled, he decided to send two officers, Heath Zeitler and Matt Conrad, for the training at the IUP Punxsutawney campus.

"All indications are that this is the best training around," he said. "It really has an impact on the officers and how they approach their jobs."

Ken Dworek, Brookville Borough Police chief said his department had two officers, Mickey Stormer and Bo Gallagher, who took the course.

Dworek said for the next CIT class, he hopes to send two more officers for the training.

"This class illustrates where law enforcement is at today," Dworek said. "Forth years ago, new officers were picked because they were big and knew the right person, so they gave them a gun and a badge.

"There was very little training, in the last 35 years as training increased it has changed law enforcement," Dworek said, adding that he considers officers who have completed training at an expert level.

"That is what CIT is to me, an officer that graduates from this class is the same type of training that an officer receives when they graduate from college," he said.

"When an officer becomes involved in a domestic dispute, not necessarily husband and wife, where people are having problems emotionally which is a volatile situation, CIT will help to defuse the situation," Dworek said.

He said there are a large variety of medical conditions and drugs that may be involved in a mental health emergency and this course teaches first responders how to deal with these conditions.

"I'm hoping to have a CIT officer on every shift to help a regular officer with some of the situations that first responders encounter," Dworek said.

The Clearfield and Jefferson County Criminal Justice Advisory boards are planning on offering the course again real soon, Brown said.