For nearly 40 years, MCES has been a pioneer in the field of crisis intervention specialist training for law enforcement officers and criminal justice personnel. This comprehensive, 3-day long in-service has always been offered free-of-charge to peace officers and their departments. It is designed to train officers on crisis intervention techniques, effective responses to psychiatric emergencies, and recognizing signs and symptoms of mental illness. The training includes a “hearing voices” simulation, education on various types of medication and diagnoses, mental health law and jail diversion. The school also incorporates a unique program called “NAMI: In Our Own Voice” where officers get to talk to a peer specialist and hear their experiences with mental illness and law enforcement. For over eleven years, Michelle Monzo has served as CIS instructor for MCES. She is a widely recognized teacher, speaker, and authority in the field of forensic education. Michelle recently lectured on the topic of suicide-by-cop at the Amtrak Police Department’s National Conference in Washington, DC, and she also trained Amtrak officers and supervisors nationally.
How does one train hundreds of police officers from all across the county (and beyond) in crisis intervention? Give officers a single location, that they already know, where they can have access to a skilled, knowledgeable, highly trained instructor. Michelle’s Crisis Intervention Specialist training goes beyond mere lecture and analysis, she conducts role-play scenarios, engages officers in critical, out-of-the-box thinking, and exposes them to mental health professionals and patients on the inpatient unit at MCES. Many officers have stated that seeing individuals they know from the community receiving treatment and having an opportunity to review documentation gives them a whole new perspective on these individuals. Due to limitations on smaller departments, some officers cannot feasibly come to MCES for training. Always one to solve a problem creatively, Michelle offers “roll call trainings” to ensure that even officers who cannot go to MCES receive the training they need.
Michelle believes that every police officer, not just certain ones, can and should be trained in crisis intervention and should be more educated on mental illness and psychiatric emergencies. Michelle is a leader in her field, a certified nonviolent crisis intervention specialist, certified Aging and Adult Protective Agent, hostage negotiator/consultant, member of the Delaware Valley Regional Negotiator Board and the Montgomery County Critical Incident Stress Management Team. In 2010, she was recognized by the Philadelphia Police Department and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for her work in training hostage negotiation teams. Often on her own time, Michelle offers confidential peer support services to law enforcement officers who need someone “safe” to talk to. This unique, valuable resource has assisted many police officers, and was initiated on Michelle’s own accord. By creating a place for police officers to turn, Michelle has demonstrated true selfless leadership.
While there is no charge to any police officer or police department who wishes to take part in the CIS training, some municipalities make contributions to MCES, a 501(c)3, to allow the school to continue. Michelle’s program has been the recipient of foundation funding as well and continues to thrive, with CIS training now being mandatory for all Montgomery County corrections officers. With more and more police departments seeking accreditation, for which mental health training is required, Michelle’s program continues to remain relevant and sought after and is an integral component of creating safer communities. There has never been a single negative comment about Michelle's instruction, and therefore her program is self-sustaining, with enrollment only increasing. Despite a recent dearth of philanthropic support, CIS police school has continued to thrive, educating hundreds of officers annually and making interactions between individuals with mental illness and the police safer for everyone.
The CIS police school has the potential to be successfully and effectively adapted by other institutions, and indeed some have. CIS Police School, founded in 1975, was and continues to be a pioneering, model program and has been replicated by other organizations to provide mental health training to law enforcement officers. Michelle herself, not content with merely providing education to police officers from Montgomery County, has greatly expanded her reach and will potentially be offering CIS police school to law enforcement officers from Lehigh County and New Jersey. What is necessary to replicate this program is someone who has the requisite training in the fields of law enforcement and mental health, is a highly skilled educator, has the ability to translate complex diagnoses and symptomology into language that is accessible, and the drive to make meaningful connections between law enforcement, mental health professionals and consumers.
The ceaseless enthusiasm of departments who send their officers MCES to be trained by Michelle, and the consistent praise Michelle receives for her education and peer support services prove that Michelle is an effective educator and ally who effortlessly bridges the gap between law enforcement and mental health. This bridge is further seen by the implementation of mental health court, as well as discretionary involuntary committal powers exercised by law enforcement. While MCES does not charge police departments, there is a cost to them internally as they pay overtime to officers needed to replace those attending the training. Further proof of diversion efficacy comes from the number of individuals referred by police to MCES Mobile Crisis: 131 from July of 2012-June 2013.