Three Jackson County officers attended a week long training course last month and are now identified as Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Officers.

Jackson County Deputies Aaron Cochrane and Johnny (Trey) Hurst, III, and Newport Detective Shannon Webb are now three of the approximately 150 Arkansas officers who are certified to respond to mental health emergency calls that law enforcement regularly deals with.

Cochrane has been in law enforcement since 2008 when he was working for Star City as a reserve and then full time police officer. He joined the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office in Sept. 2017.

Hurst, a member of the U.S. Army Infantry for 15 years, began his law enforcement career in the Jackson County Detention Center in 2014 and moved to a deputy position in 2015.

Webb began his career at the Tuckerman Police Department in 2005. He also worked for the Jackson County Detention Center from 2007 to 2008, when he moved into a deputy role. He transferred to the Criminal Investigation Division in 2010, where he stayed until he took the position of Chief of Police in Swifton in 2014. In 2017, Webb transferred to the Newport Police Department as Investigator, where he is currently employed.

The 40 hour CIT class, in compliance with ACT 423, trains law enforcement officers from around the state to become Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Officers. This training, using the established Memphis Model of Crisis Intervention, allows officers to better address the needs and risks of vulnerable, and in crisis, individuals with mental health conditions. 

“I’m proud of these guys for stepping up to the plate to fill a much needed role in our agencies,” Sheriff David Lucas said last week. “The mental health needs of our community are vast and we’ve long looked for a way to help the community, without just putting those suffering from different ailments behind bars.” Lucas has looked at the Memphis Model for several years, in his capacity as sheriff and as a member of state boards, as a possible way to help alleviate the stress officers often experience when dealing with people who have various levels of mental handicaps. “When we respond to a call for help from a family member or the general public who is witnessing someone acting odd, disturbing the peace, or displaying scary symptoms, many times, as law enforcement, we just assume they are drunk or on drugs or just acting out for attention. The reality is that many people need legitimate medical attention. We’re not doctors and certainly can’t diagnose that. With this training, though, we now have officers who can respond to a call, observe the behavior and make the determination that the subject is in need of care, not to be confined in a jail cell.”  

The problem is that, while treatment and medical care is available, most people delay getting treatment, by as much as 10 years and, statistically, only 41 percent of people with a mental illness use mental health services in any given year. Mental disorders can range from anxiety, major depressive disorder, substance use disorder, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, schizophrenia, substance use disorders, and any combination of these. Not all individuals with an illness know they have one and they can vary from mild or moderate to severe. About six percent of adults (1 in 17) suffer from a serious mental illness, reporting an average of 88 days during the past year when they were too ill to carry out their normal daily activities.

Officers are often called because family or friends do not know how to care for them in an altered state of mind. Many times the call will come in as a domestic violence call or a drunk subject tearing the house up. In the past, officers have had very few options, except to arrest them and bring them to jail. This training is another tool for them to use when responding to abnormal behavior.  

The training, held in Jonesboro, was sponsored by the Arkansas Crisis Intervention Training Team Coalition, consisting of NAMI Arkansas, Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office, Little Rock Police Department, North Little Rock Police Department, Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare Administration, and the Mental Health Council of Arkansas, in partnership with the Arkansas Law Enforcement Training Academy and the Arkansas Commission on Law Enforcement Standards and Training. This is the second graduation class held in Craighead County hosted by and in collaboration with Mid-South Health Systems.