GREENVILLE, SC (WSPA-TV) – It will soon be mandatory for all law enforcement officers in South Carolina to take ongoing crisis intervention and de-escalation training, thanks to a bill passed unanimously in the House and Senate on the last day of the session.
“We view this training as giving the officer another tool,” said Paton Blough, a mental health advocate in Greenville and the bill’s brainchild.
Blough has worked for more than 3 years to make crisis intervention training mandatory in every law enforcement office statewide. The Governor’s signature will soon make it law.
“We think it’s necessary once an officer has field experience to re-look and keep their continued education in this, because once they’ve had a look at field experience, it’s going to mean a lot more for them than it did at the academy,” he said.
Blough says about half the counties in the state do not have any crisis intervention teams. These teams help to deescalate a situation when a mentally ill person is in crisis mode.
The National Alliance for Mental Illness gets about $200,000 from the state to teach these courses every year, but he says they are often poorly attended.
“Taxpayers will get more for their money now, classes will be full, [and] there will be a certain amount of interest.”
He says Greenville Law Enforcement has lead the charge for CIT since the death of Andrew Torres following a police struggle in 2010.
This training became mandatory for all Greenville County Deputies when Sheriff Will Lewis took office this year.
“With multiple municipalities, we all need to be on the same page and practicing the same techniques that we’ve all learned,” said Sgt. Ryan Flood with the GCSO. “As the medical field is evolving, so is law enforcement. We learn new techniques and new tactics that can help us in deescalating the situations.
Blough says this and greater resources for the mentally ill may cost money up front, but it will keep more people out of the criminal justice system.
“We believe every dollar we spend, it saves 5 to 10 dollars,” he said.
Blough says his next project is advocating for more state funded resources to develop greater services for the mentally ill.