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Officer Stabbed: How MPD's Crisis Intervention Team Responds In Mental Health Situations

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (localmemphis.com) - We're learning new information about Tuesday night's stabbing of a Memphis police officer in Orange Mound. Police say the suspect, a combat Marine veteran diagnosed with schizophrenia, also threw pipe bombs at officers.

A specially trained officer with the "Crisis Intervention Team" was stabbed twice trying to detain Christopher Roby. Roby is now charged with 11 counts of attempted murder. That officer is still being treated at Regional One, but we're told he's conscious and talking.

Investigators say Roby's mother called police for help because she says her son was armed and acting erratically.

MPD's Crisis Intervention Team responds to thousands of calls, and the number of calls is growing. In 2016, they answered nearly 18,435 CIT calls. Last year, they responded to more than 21,311.

“The toughest aspect is you never know what you're going to run into,” said Lieutenant Colonel Vincent Beasley, the coordinator for the Memphis Police Crisis Intervention Team.

CIT trained officers responded to Tuesday's call in Orange Mound. As officers tried to detain Christopher Roby, the combat Marine vet diagnosed with schizophrenia, reportedly stabbed an officer twice.

“Officers gave verbal commands to the suspect and a taser was deployed, but it had no effect on the suspect,” said MPD Director Mike Rallings after the stabbing.

“We're grateful the officer was not injured any more than he was,” said Lt. Col. Beasley.

MPD has 281 active officers who volunteer for CIT training. They undergo 40 hours of training, and 6 to 7 of those are spent with people suffering from a mental illness. The training has been so successful, MPD says more than 4,000 law enforcement agencies have adopted the same program. 

“So what we do is we calm people down enough to get them to help,” said Lt. Col. Beasley. “So we like to consider ourselves a bridge from the person who's in crisis to them getting help to where they need to go."

Beasley says the officers on the team take on the training because they want to help others. And that the officer who was injured Tuesday is doing as well as can be expected.

“He's talking about it. He knows exactly what happened, he's aware. He's excited about being a CIT officer. He said all I did was my job,” said Lt. Col. Beasley.

Beasley says they'll review Tuesday night's incident, including any body cam video, to see what, if any, improvements can be made.

We've learned Roby served three tours back to back; two in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. As mentioned earlier, he suffers from schizophrenia.

Mental health advocates say 1 in 4 people, at some point, have a mental illness. 1 in 5 have a severe mental illness like schizophrenia, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness here in Memphis.

They say Tuesday night's case is glimpse into how extraordinary the need is for resources, and how important of a role MPD’s CIT plays on this issue.

"I could not tell you how many lives CIT officers save," said Veronique Black, a family and consumer advocate for the National Alliance on Mental Illness’ Memphis office.

She said the biggest misconception is that people with mental illness are violent. Black explained a majority of people with mental illness are not violent, and rather a majority of people with mental illness become victims.

Black said Tuesday's case shows there's a growing need for mental health services, especially for veterans.

"How to fix it is to fund it. Help put more money into mental health system. Right now, we're dealing with there just aren't enough providers,” said Black.

On top of a lack of providers, she said data shows a majority of psychiatrists are 55 and older and expected to retire in a few years.

Black hopes shedding light on the need, and showing how MPD's Crisis Intervention Team works hard to help people with mental illness, will spark more people to reach out for help.

"I hope they take away from this (that it) is nothing to be ashamed of. That the brain can malfunction like any other organ. There's nothing to be ashamed in asking for help,” said Black.

If you or someone you know is struggling with a mental illness, you can reach out to NAMI at 901-725-0305. They can help you get the resources you need. They can also help families learn how to cope with mental illness.

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