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story.lead_photo.caption Callaway County Crisis Intervention Team members meet monthly at the Fulton Police Department. By improving community communication, the three full-time police departments in Callaway County are improving the way they handle cases involving mental health problems, and community policing in general. Photo by Connor Pearson / Fulton Sun.

Down in the basement of the Fulton Police Department, a group of people have committed themselves to improving community policing.

"We have a monthly meeting with our community resources," Sgt. Crystal Kent said during a Callaway County Crisis Intervention Team meeting on Friday. "We use the time to discuss issues and problems, and refine our process."

Kent said the first meeting of the Callaway CIT was in December 2016, joining a Missouri-wide effort to improve policing.

"The CIT program is lawenforcement led, but includes mental health and addiction professionals, individuals who live with behavioral health disorders, their families, social service providers and other advocates," she said. "CIT trains law enforcement to be able to better respond to persons who are experiencing a behavioral health crisis and assist them in accessing treatment resources rather than place them into the criminal justice system, initially."

The CIT is not a "get-out-of-
jail-free card," Kent said, adding it does not erase criminal charges.

"We try to get the individual help at the beginning (of the process), if we can," she said. "That does not stop them from facing the consequences of their actions."

Callaway County Sheriff Clay Chism said they are in a unique position with the jail lying within their jurisdiction.

"We deal with lots of mental health issues in the jail," he said. "This is a collaborative effort to assist those in need."

Not only will the CIT provide more resources for offenders with mental health issues, it also serves to improve community policing in general, Kent said.

"The CIT has definitely improved community communication," she said "We have all three full-time police forces represented."

The CIT also includes representatives from William Woods University and Westminster College, Fulton State Hospital, the rape and domestic violence agency CARDV, Callaway County Special Services and Fulton Medical Center, among others.

Chism said this shows how committed local law enforcement officials are to improving not only themselves, but the community they serve.

"Being a law enforcement officer is being a community servant," Chism said. "I believe this program will help build a better community."

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