Central Ohio officers receive mental health training

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — The Columbus Division of Police said its officers are responding to mental health calls every day and it wants to make sure they are equipped to handle these situations.

More than 100 officers from Columbus and more than 20 other agencies took part in a training session Wednesday focused on responding to youth in a mental health crisis.

Mental health experts hope the officers are leaving the training able to recognize when a person is having a mental health crisis.

Matt Dorgan knows firsthand just how impactful police interaction can be during a mental health crisis.

“The day that Brianna passed away, the first officers arrived were CIT (Crisis Intervention Training) officers,” Dorgan said.

Brianna is Dorgan’s daughter. She died by suicide in December 2020 at 15 years old.

“They really helped me, you know, because now I was going through a mental health crisis,” Dorgan said. “You know, it was the beginning of December. I’m laying on the parking lot, you know, sobbing with no shoes, no shirt, sobbing away and they just kind of took me under their wing,” Dorgan said.

Dorgan has a law enforcement background and his mission now is to help law enforcement agencies like Columbus improve their interaction with people going through a mental health crisis. He founded the organization Building Bridges with Brianna to do so.

Lt. Mike Voorhis with the Columbus Division of Police said he’s noticed a shift in the way the division handles mental health in the last four years. He said dealing with a youth mental health crisis can be very different than dealing with an adult.

“You show up for a child that doesn’t want to get up and go to school. Why don’t they want to go to school, when you find out there’s something else behind that,” Voorhis said.

Voorhis leads the division’s mobile crisis response unit, a team made up of five officers and one sergeant. They work seven days a week and respond to a variety of mental health calls.

“We want to help them,” Voorhis said. “We want to get out there and help the children and help people find resources that they need. So our big goal today is to provide a lot of resources for officers so that when they go to these houses, they can provide the resources to the people in the community.”

He said they use presenters from Nationwide Children’s Hospital, ADAMH and Kaleidoscope Youth Center to give officers the tools they need.

“Oftentimes the police are the first interaction in a crisis right there at the front door, and so they set the stage for all the other interactions with that crisis specifically and then any crisis that follows in that person’s lifetime,” Karly Tennant, the director of clinical services for the Franklin County ADAMH board, said.

Local mental health organizations hope the officers leave the training knowing that what they do matters and every interaction has an impact.