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The Mental Health & Recovery Board of Portage County recognized two local law enforcement professionals as the 2013 Crisis Intervention Team Officers of the Year.
MHRB Chairman William Nome presented awards to Lt. Sharon Hissom of the Robinson Memorial Hospital Police Department and Officer Will Scritchfield of Kent State University Police Services for their work with persons in crisis or have mental illness.
"We thank Officer Scritchfield and Lt. Hissom and their department leaders for understanding that the person in crisis is worthy of understanding, compassion and a helping hand," Nome said.
Crisis Intervention Training is a national program created by the National Alliance on Mental Illness. The training provides officers with the knowledge and tools to help de-escalate people with mental illness or in crisis and to make referrals. The end result is safety for the individual and the officer.
The program is sponsored in Portage County by the Mental Health & Recovery Board in partnership with the Portage County Sheriff's Office. More than 200 law enforcement professionals representing all local police departments in the county as well as the sheriff's office have been trained through the program.
Hissom is often called to the Robinson Emergency Department when a patient arrives with mental health issues. The situations are often tense and unpredictable for the patient as well as hospital staff.
A 35-year veteran of law enforcement work, Hissom uses her CIT tools to de-escalate the level of the crisis and bring calm so the patient receives the care he or she needs and Hissom's hospital colleagues stay safe. Since 2009 when she went through the training, annual arrests at the hospital have dropped from 62 to five in 2012.
"Officers need tools to work with patients in crisis, which we are seeing on a daily basis. CIT training has given us the additional tools. I have found if the patient is communicating, I can keep a conversation going for an extended period of time. This, often, has worked in calming that person," Hissom said.
A Kent resident, Hissom's personal career philosophy is to "do the very best at my job with integrity and fairness." She has been with the hospital police department since 2005 and has been steadily promoted. She oversees all aspects of the day shift operations at Robinson.
She has lived her whole life in Kent. Hissom is a graduate of Theodore Roosevelt High School and the Ohio Police Officers Training Academy. She is also an A.L.I.C.E. instructor.
Knowing the right question to ask when faced with a person who is in a mental health crisis earned Scritchfield the 2013 CIT Officer of the Year Award.
"At KSU some students are under a lot of pressure to succeed. They are placed in this new environment, often on their own for the first time in their lives. It can be very stressful if things don't go just right. CIT training allows me to better communicate with students who may get to a crisis stage," Scritchfield said.
The KSU officer's approach to his job extends to non-students when it comes to working in a changeable setting like a university.
"It is also helpful in dealing with people in the community who may suffer from a mental illness. Understanding the basics of the right questions to ask has been valuable in these situations," he added.
KSU Assistant Police Chief Dean Tondiglia nominated Scritchfield for his extraordinary follow through with students and others that the officer has come in contact with during the last year.
Scritchfield also helped an elderly woman who was driving without a license on campus and who appeared to be extremely confused and in distress. Officer Scritchfield took the time to contact her neighbors and adult protective services to initiate care for her.
"I believe it's important for every officer to understand that each person has their own threshold of what a crisis is to them and although we may not understand it from their perspective, to that person it is very real. CIT training helps officers understand this and gives them some tools to help people during these times," Scritchfield said.
A resident of Uniontown, Scritchfield joined the KSU force in 2008.
He previously worked for the Uniontown Police Department and as a construction manager for Schumacher Homes. He was graduated with honors from The University of Akron where he earned a degree in Criminal Justice and also went through the police academy.
When the housing downturn hit the construction business, he decided to pursue his passion and train to be a police officer. "I have always had a lot of respect for those who serve in the military and in local law enforcement," he said.
Scritchfield shares Officer of the Year honor with colleagues at KSU: Resource Officer Michquel Penn who was recognized in 2009 and Officer Jeff Futo who was honored in 2010.
The Mental Health & Recovery Board of Portage County is a county agency that plans, funds and monitors public mental health and addiction treatment services for Portage County residents. Mostly funded by local levies, the board also funds 24-hour emergency services to help residents in crisis and to provide assistance when communities experience crisis incidents. Services are funded through a network of community agencies: Coleman Professional Services, Townhall II, Children's Advantage and Family and Community Services.