2017-03-17 / Neighbors
Deputy keeps cool during crisis
CPD officer awarded for her intervention expertise
All the Camarillo Police Department deputy knew was that she was dealing with a young person in mental crisis.
“Instead of just yelling at him, ‘Get down here!’ that type of thing, I just talked with him and we had a conversation. I was actually able to talk him down,” the 24-year veteran said.
Although her instincts served her well that day, Pugh has since completed a 40-hour crisis intervention course administered by the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office.
Started nearly 16 years ago, the Crisis Intervention Team, or CIT, has trained some 1,500 deputies and police officers how to de-escalate situations involving people in mental distress, said Capt. Mike Stadler, who heads the team.
“We’re the only county in the state of California that has all law enforcement agencies participating in CIT,” Stadler said.
Each year, every police station and sheriff’s substation in the county nominates an outstanding CIT officer or deputy as Officer of the Year. Eight were nominated for the 2016 award.
“The selection criteria overall is more than just someone being involved in a single incident,” Stadler said. “It has to do with them being a champion of the program, promoting CIT and the principals that we support, and them being out there and doing the work.”
Pugh, who was nominated by Camarillo Police Department Sgt. John Franchi, was honored as the county’s 2016 CIT Officer of the Year at an awards ceremony March 1.
“Chandra is calm and compassionate as she speaks with people in crisis,” Franchi said. “Chandra’s excellent intervention skills make it safer for the individual in crisis.”
Crisis intervention training— based on the “Memphis Model,” a training course developed in 1988 by the University of Memphis to teach police nonlethal strategies for dealing with the mentally ill—spread countywide following a series of confrontations in the late 1990s.
In 1998, three mentally ill people were fatally shot by local police—two had confronted officers with weapons, the other brandished what turned out to be a paintball gun—and their deaths spurred the creation of the Crisis Intervention Team, which works in partnership with the county Behavioral Health Department and mental health nonprofits.
Deadly confrontations between cops and mentally ill people with weapons have dogged law enforcement for decades. Last year, one-third of all fatal shootings by police in Los Angeles involved mentally ill people.
In Ventura County, about 72 percent of law enforcement officers have CIT training. They are taught how to be active listeners, how to de-escalate crises and how to provide information to families about available community resources. Training simulates a range of situations, including domestic violence incidents and encounters with suicidal people, armed and unarmed.
“We’ll have a scenario, for example, where someone is standing on the ledge of a building,” said Pugh, who completed the intervention course two years ago. “These are the types of situations that we encounter every day, so we have to know how to respond.”
For Pugh, the formal training she received in CIT only reinforced the tools she’s always used when dealing with mentally ill people.
“For me, I tend to go in and try to talk to them. I’ve always done it that way,” she said. “I want to hear what they have to say and respect them.
“I listen to them, talk to them and try to guide them toward getting some help, as opposed to just trying to find something to arrest them for. That’s the last thing I want to do. The most important thing is getting them the help they need.”