Mississippi CISM Interventions… Separating The Responders?


It is a provocative idea to separate, by discipline, responders to specific events. Sometimes, it seems like a better idea than others.
In Mississippi, the CISM world developed unusually relative to the rest of most statewide programs with which I am familiar.  In 2004, we started a program to develop regionally some CISM responders for needs in the area of first responders specifically.  We targeted peers, mental health professionals, and chaplains explicitly for the coursework and training.  As a result of funding that was made available by a grant through the Mississippi Department of Health, we were able to provide training to over 600 individuals throughout the state.  We piloted the GRIN course due to some time constraints for potential participants here.  It was an exciting time for us.

Nearly simultaneously, in 2005, we came across an individual in a training course who wanted to develop something like this for the law enforcement (LE) family in Mississippi. Post-Katrina, this individual was tasked by the Commissioner of Public Safety to get this thing going for cops in the state.  He was able to speak at the annual Chiefs of Police and Sheriffs’ conventions and quickly began to win their support amidst this new program and need.  At first, this took some time, diligence, and perseverance.
So training and information it was for the LE community.  He now had time, a state vehicle, and open invitation to agencies and academies.  He was able to travel the state and offer a 32-hour POST certified course for peers of all types – local police, sheriffs, deputies, dispatchers, highway patrol, chaplains, and mental health professionals. As a result of this tasking, the course was able to be offered at no charge as well.  He was offered a block of time in each police academy to share about the core of the program.  To date, more than 1200 officers have been trained.
Soon thereafter, he persistently lobbied a bill for peer privilege for certified team members which passed and is still in place.  This was the first peer privilege bill in the country that added a criminal penalty for divulgement of information or compulsion to disclose information from interventions.  This criminal penalty is what made cops trust the process. (Incidentally, Alabama is in the process of using this as a paradigm for their bill which will be one of the best in the country.)  At present, the program is developing in several surrounding states in the Southeast and, more recently, beyond.  For this and many other matters, we are thankful.
The LE portion of our CISM program took off, leaving the fire service, emergency medical services, emergency management, and others in the dust.
The question that has developed over time is whether the law enforcement culture is so unique that it requires a different approach.  That is to say that the LE culture is simply somewhat paranoid (I am not using it in the strict clinical sense, but in the everyday understanding of the term and culture) by nature and very reticent of group interventions.  The LE community wants to know that what they are sharing is “safe.” Our peer privilege bill has proven most effective in the LE community as a result.  So the question remains: do we do ourselves a favor by allowing the separation of disciplines in interventions?  While a provocative question, it is also filled with emotional pleas from both sides.
For Mississippi, it seems to be going well. There are some caveats that are able to be shared:

  • Standardized training is important. To use the same models of communication and individual intervention services seems to work best.
  • Teams should be the target. We missed the mark in the initial 600+ that were trained in Mississippi: we did not intentionally develop CISM teams. Hence, there are many individuals throughout the state who have good intentions, but no skeletal framework from which to operate and respond. Everyone trained in the LE community through the 32-hour training experience is on the team.
  • Following the model should be stressed in all training. I am preaching to the choir to some degree, but we have made it a habit to mention several times throughout the class to specifically say, “Follow the model.” This is oftentimes met with “what if” scenarios that are very unique through which we need to negotiate under professional guidance.
  • Mental health professionals should always be a part. Again, preaching to the choir I may be, but there are a number of “cowboys” who want to do debriefings alone or as a couple of peers/chaplains. As we discover these, we need to offer correction and encouragement and, if ignored, cut ties.
  • Clear communication is essential. All sources of emergency services should know what the other is doing. This is helpful and lends to a credibility of friendly means. Ultimately, we are all doing the same thing with the same desired outcome.

These are a few thoughts relative to this notion of the separation of disciplines.  The LE or “blue” culture does seem to have some unique needs different from those in the responses that are offered.
We would be happy to hear from you about ways in which this has developed in your programs to continue to learn from our colleagues for best practices and outcomes for our responders.  We are honored to be a part of a unique community and garner input and critique.  Please send us your thoughts to cj@mscrisis.org.


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