October 22, 2021

City woman tackles mental health with CPD help

Colin Spencer/staff reporter

A man walks by the Cortland Police Department in this December 2020 Cortland Standard file photo.

Since Katina Casterline, 33, of Cortland was paired with a Cortland City police officer six years ago, her suicide attempts have decreased from five times a year, to almost not at all.

Traumatic events since childhood led Casterline to develop post traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

The conditions have taken a toll, and Casterline said she’s had frequent suicidal thoughts and attempts, and frequent episodes of self-harm.

She developed a fear of law enforcement after being tackled during a mental health episode in Courthouse Park, she said, developed a fear of restraint after waking up in the middle of the night handcuffed to a bed and grew fearful of ambulances and first responders after gaining consciousness on the way to a hospital.

“After my first two suicide attempts, I wanted to face that fear and on July 6 of 2015, I got in touch with the Cortland Police Department and I asked if they help people with mental health issues,” Casterline said. “They said definitely yes and paired me up with officer (Ryan) Gross and we’ve been meeting for the last six years.”

The Cortland Police Department started its Crisis Intervention Team nine years ago, said Deputy Chief David Guerrera.

If you need help

  • For help during a mental health crisis, people can call Cortland police at 607-753-3001.
  • For emergencies, call 911.

Participating officers are trained to assess individuals, identify which medications treat which mental illnesses, recognize trauma responses and triggers. They learn about mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, Guerrera said.

About 93% of the department is trained.

When people are in crisis — panic attacks, depressive episodes, at risk of harming themselves or others, suicidal thoughts or tendencies, self-harming or in need of someone to talk to — they are encouraged to call the police, Guerrera said.

“If they don’t need to go to the hospital for immediate crisis, we can get them calmed down and get them connected, whether professionally or with a family member,” Guerrera said.

The police department works with counselors and facilities like Family Counseling Services of Cortland County, Guerrera said.

In near-overdose situations, officers will refer people to the Centers of Treatment Innovation in Cortland.

“I read every one of these mental health reports and if I see one where I’m afraid someone might fall through the cracks, I assign the report back to an officer to follow up with the person when they’re not in crisis,” Guerrera said. “That’s where Gross met Katina and he’s been meeting with her on and off for six years.”

About 15% of the department’s mental health reports are assigned to officers to follow up, Guerrera said.

But Casterline’s case is rare — the department has not seen an officer meet with someone for as long as Gross has met with Casterline.

“For Katina specifically, she was having major reservations in wanting to have any involvement with the police,” Gross said. “Over the years, she’s become more and more comfortable in those types of dealings when she needs to have those involvements.”

Before her meetings with Gross, Casterline would suffer from dissociation or panic attacks if police were driving behind her or walking on the street, she said.

Now, with Gross’s help, she’s no longer triggered.

“Over the last two years, I’ve been hemming and hawing about wanting to share this story and I really need to do it because it can help someone else and broaden their perspective of what the PD does and how they can help with mental health,” Casterline said.