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Abernathy, Simmons commended for training efforts

By Jason A. Smith

jsmith@henryherald.com

Two law-enforcement professionals in Henry County recently received statewide recognition for their attempts to provide instruction in a key area.

Henry County Police Chief Russell Abernathy, and Lt. Chuck Simmons, were honored May 16 at Georgia's third annual Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Honors Banquet, in Forsyth, Ga.

Abernathy was given the Director Vernon Keenan Leadership Award, for helping to advance the CIT program in Henry. Police Lt. Chuck Simmons was named the Georgia CIT Law Enforcement Coordinator of the Year.

CIT training is designed to equip police, probation officers and others with the tools necessary to recognize people suffering from mental illness.

Simmons has directed much of the CIT training provided in Henry, to agencies including the police department, the Henry County Sheriff's Office, and the Department of Family and Children Services. In a statement issued by the county Friday, the lieutenant said the program enhances the abilities of police, with regard to the mentally ill.

"CIT training helps us to de-escalate situations by teaching us to recognize signs of mental illness," he said. "We want to ensure that people suffering with mental illness can get access to the help they need, rather than just being put in jail."

The chief called his award an "honor," and noted the need for police departments across the state to implement such a program. "This kind of training is very important in our line of work, and is something that every law enforcement agency should attend," explained Abernathy.

Henry County Spokesperson Julie Hoover-Ernst applauded the leadership of the police department for its willingness to promote the CIT program.

"The county is quite proud of the police department's commitment to crisis intervention training," she said. "It helps to provide resources and direction for people with mental illnesses, and their families. That type of treatment is, many times, more cost-effective than jail, so it saves taxpayers money, as well."

The agencies sponsoring the CIT program include: the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill; the Georgia Department of Human Resources; the Georgia Bureau of Investigation; the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police; the Georgia Sheriff's Association, Inc.; and the Georgia Public Safety Training Center.