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Crisis Intervention Teams: A National Model Becomes a Reality for Local Law Enforcement

6/6/2012 8:00:00 AM
Written By:
Jay Sexton, Colonial Area Crisis Intervention Team Coordinator

In 2011, local police were dispatched to Phi Beta Kappa Hall at the College of William & Mary, for a person in distress on top of the building. The individual, a student at William & Mary, was depressed.  Lt. Don Janderup of the Williamsburg Police Department was on duty and arrived at the location. Lt. Janderup had recently completed 40 hours of training in Crisis Intervention through the Hampton-Newport News Community Services Board. After an hour of very concentrated conversation, the student was guided down from the building and connected with local mental health services.  Lt. Janderup was the first member of the Colonial Area Crisis Intervention Team to receive crisis intervention training, and is now one of the core trainers. 

The National Model
Many Crisis Intervention Teams (CIT), including the Colonial Area CIT, are modeled after the first program in Memphis, Tennessee. In 1988, the Memphis Police Department partnered with the Memphis Chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), mental health providers and two local universities (the University of Memphis and the University of Tennessee) in organizing, training and implementing a specialized unit. This unique and creative alliance was established for the purpose of developing a more intelligent, understandable and safe approach to mental health crisis events. This community effort was the genesis of the Memphis Police Department's CIT and lead to the development of CIT programs all over the world.

CIT Programs create a more educated and compassionate response for those experiencing a mental health crisis and are a very important part of a Virginia initiative to divert those who are mentally ill away from incarceration. CIT represents a major step forward in acknowledging that mental illness is a disease - and recognizing that arrest is not always an appropriate response to someone whose behavior is directly related to symptoms of their disease. However, there will be times when incarceration is necessary because of the nature of the offense committed (i.e. crimes of violence), or lack of bed space in local mental health facilities.  

Development of Our Local Program
In 2005, a group consisting of the Colonial Community Corrections Criminal Justice Planner, local police departments, NAMI and Colonial Behavioral Health employees held a law enforcement training addressing CIT concepts.  Although the training was well received and a worthy effort, the coming years would see very little progress towards the development of an actual CIT.

In December of 2011, Colonial Behavioral Health submitted a statement of need and application for a six month CIT planning grant from the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services to begin in January 2012. Colonial Behavioral Health was one of only six localities in Virginia selected to receive grant funds. As a result of the planning grant, 11 law enforcement officers have been trained who will likely become core instructors equipped to train additional officers in the future.   A planning group has been meeting on a regular basis with community stakeholders to include The Colonial Community Criminal Justice Board, Williamsburg NAMI, The College of William & Mary, City of Poquoson, County of James City, County of York, City of Williamsburg and the Williamsburg Community Health Foundation.

Though proud of the efforts and our accomplishments thus far, we still have a lot of work to do. The Colonial Area Crisis Intervention Team and its members will continue to be completely committed to our community, working with mental health consumers, family members and mental health advocates to set a standard of excellence for our officers with respect to treatment of individuals with mental illness. 

Jay Sexton is an experienced law enforcement officer who holds a Master's degree in Criminal Justice Administration from Virginia Commonwealth University. Jay served as a patrol officer, Investigator and Supervisor in the Special Operations Bureau of the Williamsburg Police Department from 1982 until his retirement in 2008. Jay has also served as an adjunct professor at Thomas Nelson Community College and as Project Coordinator/Grant Administrator for the York County Violence Against Women Task Force in Yorktown. For more information about the Colonial Area CIT program, contact Jay at jsexton@colonialbh.org.

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