Crisis intervention training no longer optional for Hillsborough deputies

Nearly three months after a man with a knife, suffering from mental illness, was shot and killed by a Hillsborough County deputy, the sheriff’s office announced Tuesday it is making crisis intervention training mandatory for all its deputies.

The revamped program begins June 24 for all 2,400 deputies in patrol and detention roles. It was previously voluntary training, but now it’s required.

“It's so important for our deputies to do, be able to identify an individual that's suffered from some type of mental illness, to be able to deescalate and control that situation,” said Sheriff Chad Chronister of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.

In March, the family of Jesus Calderon called for help because he was suicidal and armed with a knife. Deputies said he charged at them when they arrived, but his family disagrees. He ended up shot and killed.

“We felt that things were done in an unnecessary action that did not have to happen. My uncle did not have to lose his life today,” said Calderon’s niece on the day he died.

In December 2018, Deputy Terry Strawn shot and killed three relatives then called 911. But after deputies tried to talk him down, Strawn took his own life.

Sheriff Chronister said he recognizes there’s a problem.

“The large majority of police uses of deadly force involve these days with an individual who suffers from some type of mental illness,” said Chronister. “There are more law enforcement officers that are killed by their own gun now than in the line of duty.”

The sheriff’s office collaborated with several agencies to develop the new training, including the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay.

“Not everything needs to be a hands-on situation for one thing. So, there are things that they can learn in terms of ways to communicate with somebody where it does not have to get physical,” said Ken Gibson, the senior director of marketing and public relations at the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay.

Deputies will learn how to help veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and people having drug-induced mental episodes. They will also learn from calls right in their own county. The goal is to calm, contain and control the situation to try to save a life.

“The thing about mental health is that it doesn't discriminate,” said Sheriff Chronister.

Calderon’s niece told FOX 13 she’s glad the deputies are now required to have the training because she believes her uncle’s death was preventable

The new training will last for five days and will continue through the summer and the fall.