SHOW LOW — Think about the last time you were in a stressful situation. Now think about that same stressful situation and picture law enforcement becoming involved. Now picture yourself having trouble communicating about what’s happening because you have a developmental disability, are in the midst of a mental health crisis, or are experiencing one of the most difficult days of your life.

This type of situation can be trying for members of the public as well as for law enforcement. Bringing community members and local law enforcement officers together can develop mutual understanding and relationships.

Just last Friday, May 10, a 40-hour Crisis Intervention Team Training for law enforcement personnel was held in the Show Low City Campus Gymnasium. Members of the Department of Public Safety, Navajo County Sheriff’s Department, Show Low Police Department, Snowflake-Taylor Police Department, St. Johns Police Department and the Winslow Police Department were in attendance.

While the week-long training covered a variety of topics, which included a two and ½ hour session that incorporates a movie titled “Be Safe,”, created by Emily Iland, award-winning author, researcher and leader in the autism field. The movie and training are tailored to help individuals with learning and communication differences interact safely with law enforcement, and vice versa.

Cynthia Macluskie of the Autism Society of Greater Phoenix taught the interactive portions of the Be Safe session which also uses modeling to show what to do and say in different types of encounters with police. About 40 individuals with developmental disabilities from Lexington Life Academy and Meadows Catalina participated in the training with the sworn officers, according to ChangePoint Integrated Health Development and Marketing Director Nathan Updike.

“Without the participation of Lexington Life Academy and Meadows Catalina, the training would not have been successful,” says Navajo County Criminal Justice Coordinator Steve Julian. “This is the first time that ‘Be Safe’ has been offered in Navajo County so the experience was invaluable for everyone.”

“This event provided a unique, mutual opportunity for officers and individuals with disabilities to teach and learn from each other in a relaxed, safe setting,” explains trainer Nancy Martinez. “The officers helped community members practice specific skills to help them remain safe in the community, and during contact with police.”

“Together, participants and officers watched short clips from the movie. They also played Jeopardy!, Simon-Says and learned about the equipment and safety tools officers wear as part of their uniforms,” adds Martinez.

“Our intent was to allow officers to have actual time interacting with people with developmental disabilities such as autism spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy, Down’s syndrome so they could get a feel for how to better communicate with one another,” adds Updike.

“The entire training was conducted in a positive manner and it was an eye-opener for me,” says Snowflake-Taylor Police Chief Larry Scarber. “It also taught us how to better assist someone in a mental health crisis situation.”

“We are indebted to ChangePoint Integrated Health for making this training available,” Scarber adds. “The Police Department now has five officers and four dispatchers trained in CIT and the remainder in a shorter Mental Health First-aid course.”

The Be Safe portion co-organized and sponsored by ChangePoint Integrated Health and Navajo County Justice system and Health District along with several other agencies that support programs for developmentally disabled and/or special needs individuals.

For more information about Be Safe training, email Allison.Hephner@navajocountyaz.gov or nupdike@mychangepoint.org. Also see www.besafethemovie.com.

Reach the reporter at lsingleton@wmicentral.com

Laura Singleton is a reporter for the White Mountain Independent, covering Show Low city government, business and education.

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