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Local man impacts mental health training worldwide

3/6/2014 - South Side Leader
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By Joyce Rainey Long

Michael Woody is a retired lieutenant with the Akron Police Department and president of Crisis Intervention Team International, which trains law enforcement officers about mental illness.
Photo: Joyce Rainey Long
GREEN — As an officer with the Akron Police Department for 25 years, Michael Woody observed people who were mentally ill in times of crisis.

Woody, 64 and a resident of Green, is now retired from the police force and president of Crisis Intervention Team International (CIT). He also is the law enforcement liaison for the Ohio Criminal Justice Coordinating Center of Excellence. In these roles, Woody said he coordinates mental health training and also consults with police, advocacy groups and mental health organizations worldwide.

Woody has brought mental health training to law enforcement officers in 86 counties in Ohio during the past 13 years. To date, 29 percent of all full-time law enforcement officers in Ohio have CIT training, according to Woody, who added he has organized 29 CIT week-long courses in Summit County that are offered twice a year. The free training classes help law enforcement and other professionals respond better to people needing help, he said.

In 1999, after taking a course on crisis intervention in Memphis, Tenn., Woody, who was then the director of Training for the Akron Police Department, said he realized the need to introduce training to his officers on how to deal with mentally ill people.

“There was not much training on how to deal with this special population,” said Woody. “Special people needed special officers, and these officers should be given the tools to calm them down and help them seek treatment instead of going to jail.”

People with mental illness are often victimized by others, said Woody.

“They are vulnerable and oftentimes don’t have many friends, so maybe the local drug dealer befriends them. They are more likely to become homeless and end up in jail,” Woody said. “This situation is hard for families, and they are often desperate for understanding and help.”

As the CIT program started to grow in Akron, Woody said he was contacted by then Ohio Supreme Court Justice Evelyn Lundberg Stratton, who worked on mental health courts.

“It seemed like a better outcome to train law enforcement to recognize a mental health issue … rather than to arrest [people],” Stratton said, who is now retired from the court. “This reduced the court involvement and got the mental health person treatment instead of a criminal record. When they had to be arrested, they [people with mental illness] were treated with compassion and in a safer manner.”

With Stratton’s involvement, CIT training started to spread outside of Summit County, said Woody, and now people in 23 other states and three countries have gone through the CIT course. Some of the people trained include law enforcement officers, corrections officers, hospital security, probation and parole officers, and park rangers, according to Woody.

“We started with 100 trained CIT officers and now we have almost 7,000 trained in Ohio,” said Stratton. “Parents are less afraid to call for help knowing a CIT trained officer will respond, and this has increased safety for both officers and those who are being dealt with.”

This past November, Woody received the Impact Award for Enterprise from the Margaret Clark Morgan Foundation for bringing CIT to Ohio.

The 40-hour CIT training classes feature panel discussions and lectures that are led by physicians, nurses, attorneys and law enforcement officers.

“We teach about mental illness and the unpleasant side effects of medicine. Officers, people with mental illness and parents tell their stories, and those in the class develop feelings of empathy for those with mental illness and their families,” said Woody, who teaches de-escalation. “It is the body language and tone of voice you use to calm people down so they voluntarily go with you and seek mental health treatment.”

On the last day of the CIT course, trained actors play the roles of mental health patients at Northeast Ohio Medical University in Rootstown. Woody said the role playing is usually the most highly rated part of the week for people taking the CIT course.

“My hope is that every law enforcement agency has a CIT program. We need more education and understanding on this and for the whole community,” he said.

“He is a tireless advocate and promoter, and this is a passion for Lt. Woody,” said Stratton.

For more information, Woody can be contacted at dutifulmind@gmail.com.

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