MASSILLON, Ohio — Ashley Covey stood in front of a group of cadets at the new Law Enforcement Training Center in Massillon and focused her presentation on CIT, which stands for Crisis Intervention Training.
"You want to be alert. You want to be ready to respond, but also, you don't want to overdo it," Covey said.
About 20 cadets, made up of correctional officers and police officers from several different agencies, are taking part in the first academy at the new facility located on 1st Street SE.
The academy will include 147 hours and will run four weeks followed by an additional eight-hour Taser Certification course.
During the first week, there was a heavy emphasis on CIT, following up on an August promise by Sheriff George Maier who said the community sent "a loud and clear message to law enforcement" for better training on conflict resolution.
"We're seeing a big influx of mentally ill inmates coming into correctional facilities," Covey said. "There are a lot of statistics out there that are showing that the jails are becoming the the new mental health hospitals."
To help illustrate the point, Covey role-played as a suicidal inmate while Stark County Deputy Sheriff Joe Petrime— who has been on the job for two years— practiced deescalation and communication techniques.
"I can tell you there is light. There is an end to this," Petrime told Covey during the exercise.
Dealing with people in crisis behind bars or on calls in the community is something many of the new officers have already faced during their short careers.
That includes Petrime, who recalled calming down an inmate who was agitated for 45 minutes inside the Stark County Jail.
"He was ready to fight. He was ready to go. He was yelling things into my body camera," Petrime said. "I actually sat down with him and we talked some more and I have a good rapport with him to this day."
Sgt. Jeff Begue, one of the administrators at the Stark County Jail, said there are good reasons that CIT is conducted at the beginning of the academy.
He explained with more scrutiny over how officers interact with the mental health community and when those officers use deadly force, it's important for law enforcement to be aware that underlying issues could be involved and addressed.
"Being able to identify what you're dealing with can lead to being more patient, a little bit more receptive, a little bit more of looking for other options, and what can we do to set us up for success and better serve the community as a whole," Begue said.
Another important lesson stressed at the academy is that the cadets need to take care of themselves through the pressures of the job.
"Correction officers have a suicide rate that's twice as high as police officers that are on the road," Covey said.
Petrime is among the officer taking the concern over officer wellness to heart.
"The old way of doing it— I'm just going to jam it down here and we'll deal with it later— it leads to more problems," he said.
More cadets will go through the academy next year and in the years to come, and while the faces will change, Begue said the importance of CIT will always be emphasized.
"Every agency wants their whole staff educated in how to deal with these situations when they come up."