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Conway police force putting focus on crisis intervention training

"The more I have done this the more I've realized that whether we like it or not police officers are social workers and they are therapists and they are counselors."

CONWAY, Ark. — An Arkansas police department is putting mental health awareness month front and center when it comes to how officers are prepared for the job. 

It's called Crisis Intervention Training and the Conway Police Department really wants to make sure officers know how to handle these sometimes delicate situations.

This actually all started back in 2017 when the legislature passed Act 423.

This basically said that law enforcement agencies needed to focus on Crisis Intervention Training. 

They said every department needed to have at least 20% of their workforce CIT trained.

Sergeant Andrew Johnson, with the Conway Police Department, said that's what they are focusing on now. 

"The more I have done this, the more I've realized that whether we like it or not, police officers are social workers, and they are therapists and they are counselors," he said.

It's not the job description you'd probably expect, but when people feel that call to protect their community, Sergeant Johnson said they may end up doing much more than enforcing just the law when the phone rings.

"When somebody sees something that they don't know what else to do with, they call 911, and so it ends up being us having to go because no one else does, and if that's the case, then we need to do more than what we've always done," he said.

That's why Sergeant Johnson said the Conway Police Department is putting an emphasis on Crisis Intervention Training. 

The main goal is to teach emergency responders how to properly de-escalate a situation when an individual with a mental illness is involved.

"Basically the way I like to describe it is it's almost like trying to give them a crash course in a bachelor's of psychology. That's really what it is, trying to cram that much information into a week," he said.

It's something that means more to Sergeant Johnson than just certifying his co-workers, that's because before he wore the badge, he spent over a decade as a licensed counselor.

"It's been an interesting transition that I would have never seen coming 12 years ago, when I started to where I am now," he said.

While Sergeant Johnson's two worlds have collided, he knows as more officers are trained, it will only make departments better all around. 

"I think this is the culmination of the defund the police movement that gained so much popularity over the last few years, where we as a profession have kind of taken that and learn from that, knowing that there was something to that," he said.

Throughout the training, officers learn from professionals from places like UAMS and counseling centers. 

Sergeant Johnson said this is just the beginning when it comes to mental health training for the Conway Police Department. 

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