October 31, 2012

Talking to a Roomful of Armed Men Was Easy

Last week, I stood in front of a roomful of police officers and sheriff's deputies at Jefferson College.

They listened intently as I told them how to do their job.

Yes, I'm that ballsy.

No, really, I'm not.

I was one of four panelists who spoke at a Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) session, sponsored by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

I talked about The Boy. I told them that he's smart and funny and sarcastic. That at age 17, he knows it all, and isn't afraid to remind me that his wisdom far exceeds my own.

I told them how he stood on the top of the radiator in my bedroom and tried to jump out of the window. Nobody wants to think that their six-year old wants to die. Thus began my journey of parenting a child with special needs. I told them how ADHD, Asperger's and Impulse Control Disorder diagnoses were added to his list of challenges.

Then I got down to business. I told of last year's big adventure with law enforcement, and how he was maced for resisting arrest. You can read about it here and here.

They peppered me with questions.

"What part of the county do you live in?"

"Where do you live?"

They were all sure that we didn't live in THEIR jurisdiction.

They were right. No officers from our town attended the training. Like The Boy, they know it all.

After I described all of the things that had gone wrong that awful day, I offered a list of suggestions that may have helped make things better for The Boy in crisis.

"Don't shout at him. Speak softly - if he is yelling, he has to quiet down to hear what you are saying. Don't lunge at him - it frightens him, and he's apt to flee. Offer reassurance, remind him to breathe, ask him to sit down to help him calm himself."

I told them that since The Boy is 17, he will be treated as an adult if the police are involved again. That means that he'll go to the county jail instead of being placed in juvenile custody. We have two service providers coming to our home each week to help teach The Boy to better manage his anger and frustration. I am doing everything I can to keep him from finding out how bad jail will be.

I spoke of The Boy's lingering anxiety about even seeing a police vehicle. Right away, hands shot up. Several deputies and officers said that they want to meet The Boy. They want him to tour their offices, to get to know them...to not be afraid of them. One said he'd meet him somewhere if he's having trouble, just sit down with him, have a Coke and talk.

They showed more compassion and caring than I've seen here in our town.

This is my second time speaking on behalf of NAMI. Last Spring, I spoke to a class of officers from St. Louis county. It was a larger group, and the interaction was more formal. 

I feel blessed to be able to speak to the men and women who help keep us safe - and who want The Boy to be safe, too.

I have a business card from a deputy, and I will be making the phone call so The Boy can visit.

As I walked to the van, a deputy drove up and told me how good it was for me to come to speak, and he said that I'm doing a good job as a mom.

NAMI started CIT to help law enforcement personnel learn the complexities of dealing with a citizen who is in the midst of a mental health crisis. Here's some information about CIT and how NAMI has helped countless police departments become better equipped to handle youth who are struggling with their mental health.


  1. That is the one thing I love about our small town. We have Andy Griffith and Barney fife literally for law enforcement in those situations and will do everything in their power to help and calm someone. But I also know there are departments like the one you and your son experienced. That terrifies me. It is great that you can get out there and train them to be more compassionate and understanding when faced with a crisis in a mentally ill person's life.

  2. I think that is awesome. I would have been scared to death. Can't wait to hear how he does on his visit

  3. I thnk this is great that this kind of dialogue is happening and that there were officers there who wanted to meet the boy and help him overcome his distrust of the police. This is great that you have this chance to share your wisdom and insights.

  4. Congrats to you, Kim! You are a Number One Mom....and writer...and speaker!

  5. Bravo for you. You're an inspiration!


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