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Local CIT named statewide program of the year

The Daily Record - 12/16/2019

WOOSTER — For Wooster Police Ptl. Jerome Fatzinger, a little empathy goes a long way when he encounters people in mental health crisis.

“We deal with mental illness every single day,” said Fatzinger, a 21-year WPD veteran. “... Officers just need to have a little empathy and compassion for people and treat them as if they’re your son or your daughter or your mother or father who’s in crisis, and treat them the way you expect them to be treated. And that’s basically what it comes down to.”

That philosophy is the core of Crisis Intervention Team training, a program that gives law enforcement officers and other first responders a deeper understanding of mental illnesses and techniques to de-escalate situations involving people in mental health crisis.

Fatzinger, along with Ptl. Josh Miller and Helen Walkerly, the executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Wayne and Holmes counties, oversee the CIT program for both counties. And this year, the local CIT has been named the Ohio program of the year by the statewide Crisis Intervention Team.

“We just feel really honored that we were chosen,” Walkerly said. “We’ve really grown a lot.”

The CIT program of Wayne and Holmes counties started in 2005, and since then has trained 195 officers from law enforcement agencies in both counties, including 16 police departments and both sheriff’s offices. Last fall, the program also offered CIT training to a group of Wayne County 911 dispatchers, and this spring, several firefighters and EMTs completed a one-day training, too.

Statewide, there are 45 CIT programs, and every county has at least one CIT-trained officer. The training typically takes the form of a 40-hour class over the course of five days. Wayne and Holmes counties have one of those courses each year, along with advanced courses for officers who have already completed the 40-hour course.

The training includes education on a wide variety of mental illnesses in children and adults, as well as strategies for how to defuse law enforcement situations with people with mental illnesses. Officers also get information on the involuntary commitment process, also known as issuing a “pink slip” to get someone into a hospital for treatment, and get a more hands-on experience with mental illness by having to complete a shopping list while wearing headphones that simulate schizophrenia.

All of this, Walkerly said, makes the entire community safer.

“The more that we can provide them as far as information and skills to de-escalate and understand what’s going on, the (safer it will) be,” Walkerly said. “We want all of our officers to go home at the end of the day safe, and we want all citizens to be safe.”

Reporter Jack Rooney can be reached at 330-287-1645 or He is on Twitter at