Wednesday, 30 January 2019 19:58

EDITORIAL: First responders take proactive step in training

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We applaud Richmond County’s law enforcement officers who recently went through Crisis Intervention Team training, learning how to better deal with those who may be mentally ill or have developmental disabilities.

According to a press release from Richmond Community College, the officers learned “skills to de-escalate situations and how to recognize people in crisis so they can get the help they need.”

There have been many news reports of mentally ill individuals being injured or killed by law enforcement who had no training in how to handle the situation.

One of the most infamous cases in the past decade was the 2011 beating death of Kelly Thomas in Fullerton, California.

Thomas was a 37-year-old homeless schizophrenic who died after being beaten by officers for not following their commands.

The RCC press release states that “25,000 people with severe mental illness end up in North Carolina jails. Encounters between these individuals and law enforcement officers can sometimes end tragically.”

Those on the autism spectrum also have had bad experiences with law enforcement.

An off-duty officer in Chicago shot an autistic teen in late 2017 and the caretaker of an autistic man was shot by police in Florida in 2016.

In the latter case, officers were responding to a call about a suicidal man with a gun sitting in the street. The caretaker, Charles Kinsey, tried to de-escalate the situation and tell officers that the 26-year-old autistic patient had a toy truck, not a gun.

After lying back and putting his hands in the air, Kinsey was shot.

A Texas teen was tasered by officers last year while responding to a call about the 17-year-old throwing rocks in his neighbor’s yard.

According to reports, officers thought he was intoxicated and was unable to complete a field sobriety test because of his “erratic movements, behavior and statements.”

He was eventually stunned during a scuffle after they tried to place him in handcuffs.

“For people with autism, learning to interact with first responders is critical,” reads a page on “On the other hand, it is just as essential for first responders to understand autism and be prepared to respond effectively and safely to situations that arise involving individuals on the spectrum.”

The website lists tips on how to recognize individuals with autism and gives first responders guidelines on how to interact with them.

“This type of training is very valuable for law enforcement,” said Neil Parrisher, public safety director at RCC. “It makes our officers more knowledgeable about mental illness and more confident when dealing with someone facing these challenges. It helps us better serve the public and creates more collaboration within our community.”

We agree and encourage Sheriff James Clemmons and Chiefs Billy Kelly and Scott Waters to make this training mandatory for all officers.