Durham sheriff honored for commitment to crisis intervention

Durham County Sheriff Mike Andrews
Durham County Sheriff Mike Andrews

Durham County Sheriff Mike Andrews is a constant advocate of crisis-intervention training for all law enforcement personnel, and he makes it personal for trainees by sharing a story of his own.

Andrews’ dedication to having the first people on the scene of a crisis understand the situation for the person involved and the people around that person was part of why the National Alliance on Mental Illness’s North Carolina chapter named him Outstanding Law Enforcement Executive of the year at its 2015 annual meeting in February.

Andrews, the group said, “is both passionate and compassionate in his desire to divert people with mental illness from jail.”

His agency has about 120 patrol and detention personnel who have been through the course and aims to have everyone trained, Andrews said.

At any given time, Andrews said, about 22 percent of the people being held in the Durham County Detention Center have some sort of metal health problems. But it used to be much greater.

A quarter-century ago, Andrews said, sheriff’s deputies and police officers who found people behaving oddly or violently had little alternative except to “lock ‘em up.”

With the growth of community resources for people in crisis and the introduction of crisis-intervention training, law enforcement personnel and medical first-responders can better assess situations and “recognize when these people need assistance.”

“That’s a part of our job today,” recognizing mental-health issues and getting people help, not using handcuffs as a first resort.

Law enforcement officers also are able to make better determinations about whether they need to use force to control a situation or can calm things down by talking and listening, he said.

Officers and deputies learn in training, too, about “the effect it has on the rest of the family” when a person has mental issues and may be behaving in ways that put stress on everyone around them.

The stress can affect how those people behave toward law enforcement.

When he speaks at crisis-intervention training, Andrews tells his own story of his mother’s slide into dementia and his family’s confusion about it and need for help in finding out what was happening.

Andrews’ mother, the sheriff said, was a “southern Gospel woman” who began to use speech that was odd for her. Her children began to notice nicks and dings in her car, suggesting she was having problems with driving. They were at sea in trying to understand, he said.

Crisis-intervention training, Andrews said, helps law enforcement personnel be “a little more attentive” to signs of mental-health issues when they answer a call, and that can change how they respond to the situation.

Gallagher: 919-829-4572