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Local dispatchers learn new techniques

Columbus Police Dispatcher Nate Coffield and Ohio State Highway Patrol Dispatcher Becky Canavan talk about mental health issues they’ve encountered on the job during DCIT training Tuesday at the Washington County Emergency Operations Center. (Photo by Michele Newbanks)

Dispatchers from four local law enforcement agencies spent Tuesday learning techniques for better helping callers in crisis situations.

Dispatchers from the Ohio State Highway Patrol, Washington County Sheriff’s Office, Marietta Police Department and the Marietta College Police Department were trained in everything from de-escalation of calls to substance abuse disorders to callers with delusions or hallucinations.

Marietta Police Det. A.J. Linscott said the crisis intervention team was designed to help those in need who can’t help themselves.

“We have a professional and moral responsibility to help other human beings,” he said.

The goals of the team is to make others more aware of mental illness, have empathy toward people with mental illness, improve safety for those involved, improve public relations, and reduce arrests and find another avenue, including getting people the mental help they need.

“It’s an important thing for dispatchers,” said Marietta Police Chief Rodney Hupp.

He said the CIT training was important because most of the calls dispatchers handle are from people dealing with mental health issues, whether stress-induced or longer term.

“You’ve got the most stressful job in the department,” Hupp said.

He urged the dispatchers to seek help if the job gets too much. He noted there have been dispatchers with substance abuse issues and have “come apart and the seams and had to leave.”

Mental health

disorders

Nate Coffield, lead instructor and dispatcher for Columbus Police Department said 50 percent of women and 60 percent of men overall will experience trauma in their lifetime.

In a crisis state, the frontal lobe shuts down, he noted. When the amygdala turns on, it disables the frontal lobe and engages the fight or flight reflex.

“There is no control over it,” he said. “You may not be able to think rationally.”

This may make it difficult for dispatchers to get rational information from the caller.

He said the dispatchers have to get a foundation of information, such as names and addresses, from callers before “flipping the switch” to more empathetic communication.

“The number one job is officer safety,” Coffield said. “Not sending (law enforcement) into situations unprepared.”

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is something the dispatcher may often encounter with a caller.

Coffield said approximately 3.5 percent of adults are affected by PTSD and 1 in 11 people are diagnosed in their lifetimes.

“Women are more likely because of sexual assault and domestic violence,” he added.

PTSD affects about 30 percent of Vietnam veterans, 12 percent of Persian Gulf veterans and between 11 and 20 percent of veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan.

“A 2013 VA study showed roughly 22 veterans dying by suicide per day,” he said.

The dispatcher has one major component to their jobs.

“Negotiating. That’s what we do. At the most basic level, we’re negotiators,” he explained.

Hearing Voices

Before dispatchers could participate in some of the workshops, they had to sign consent forms. They would be undergoing a simulation of what someone with schizophrenia hears.

“They’ll be hearing distressing voices,” said Dr. Karen Binkley, a teacher of psychology.

There were four workshops to participate in. During the activities, the participants would be listening to a recording that simulated the voices someone with schizophrenia would hear. The voices ranged from whispers to derogatory language to shouting.

The four workshops included:

¯ Making origami boats;

¯ Word search of animals for two minutes and strings of numbers for four minutes;

¯ Completing a job application; and

¯ Answering questions of varying difficulty, such as remembering words or recent U.S. presidents or counting backward from 100 by 7.

Substance abuse disorders/induced psychosis

Janice McFarland, director of clinical services at Life and Purpose, said a majority of people who misuse drugs and alcohol do not develop substance abuse disorder. Only about 1 in 7 people will need to seek professional help.

“The fact that you use does not make you an addict,” she explained.

She said that for that 1 in 7 people, it becomes a disorder when it causes problems with the way they function.

“Addicts are emotional people. There is no logic,” McFarland said. “They can’t see the repercussions or consequences.”

She said when many addicts get sober, they are so ashamed of their actions, they go back to using because they get overwhelmed.

McFarland explained the substance abuse psychosis, which is caused by misuse of drugs and alcohol and causes hallucinations and delusions.

“It can also happen when the body is ridding itself of the toxins,” she said.

Different ways of discerning whether or not a caller is suffering from delusions or hallucinations were also discussed.

De-escalation

Washington County Sheriff’s Deputy Jason Hall said teaching someone de-escalation is almost non-existent.

“Reasoning with an angry person is not possible,” he explained. “The de-escalation has to start on the phone.”

He said using non-verbal techniques such as tone of voice or controlled breathing can help calm the situation.

“Calm is just as contagious as fear or panic,” he said.

“We need to make sure we are there for everybody. We have to be nice human beings. It starts with you guys answering the phones.”

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