ail officials shared last Friday that local partners have taken steps to start an academy for training law enforcement and correctional staff of the Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula in Crisis Intervention Training (C.I.T.).
The partners involved in the initiative consist of the Northern Neck Regional Jail (NNRJ), the Community Services Board (CSB) for the Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula and the Middle Peninsula Regional Security Center (MPRSC).
On June 21, Michelle Lewis, Inmate Services Director at NNRJ, said the intention of C.I.T. was to teach local law enforcement and correctional officers how to properly communicate with people dealing with mental health issues in order to diffuse potentially threatening situations for both parties.
NNRJ Officer Allen Bryant called C.I.T. an alternative to traditional use of force methods for dealing with mental health emergencies.
“Instead of showing up and putting the cuffs on somebody…it teaches you how to talk to them, how to de-escalate a situation,” said Bryant.
Lewis added that the training would get officers thinking about what resources they could use in the community to find affected individuals the help they would need.
“We know once they become involved in the criminal justice system, their chance of success, many times, is hindered, because the demands placed on them are so great,” said Lewis. “If they had employment, they tend to lose it. If they had a support system, that’s compromised because they’re separated from that.”
Lewis shared that NNRJ receives several inmates who have known mental illnesses.
Lewis also said the academy would divert mentally ill persons from the criminal justice system “at its best,” while adding that local law enforcement would appreciate of any skills that would assist them in situations involving mental illness.
“It can be very intimidating to deal with someone who is experiencing a mental health crisis,” said Lewis. “I think that any way we can give them skills and confidence in dealing with that is a plus.”
Captain Jacob Siddons of the Tappahannock Police Department (TPD) said he had previously come across people who suffered from mental health-related issues.
“They need some specialized help and I think knowing how to talk to them and how to look for it is helpful,” said Siddons.
In working to form the program that would become the first locally housed academy for C.I.T. in the state, Lewis said that both law enforcement and correctional staff had been sent from the 10-county area of the Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula to receive 40-hour C.I.T. training.
“They’re going to become our instructors so that we no longer have to send folks from the 10 counties out to Henrico, Petersburg or Norfolk for training,” said Lewis.
“It will be our area academy and reflect our area’s mental health resources,” she added. “It’ll be our area’s law enforcement and correctional staff.”
Lewis noted that one benefit of the academy would be that local officers would no longer have to “latch onto somebody’s program” and miss out on diversion opportunities within their immediate area.
“That’s what’s so exciting about doing it for our own area,” said Lewis. “It’s our own resources being presented for our officers, and it’s our group of officers participating.”
In describing the skills that trainees learned from C.I.T., Bryant noted communication techniques such as focusing in on key phrases, the warning signs indicating that mental illness was present and the means for recognizing common drug interactions.
Now that the academy has been formed, Lewis said the second step is to establish an assessment site for CSB personnel to use for emergency calls.
“We’re not at a step where we can do that yet. We are just kicking off the training piece,” said Lewis. “We’ve applied for some grants in an attempt to be able to financially support the assessment site.”
Lewis added that having an officer on call 24/7 was an expensive option, but noted that the partners invested in the academy are “moving in that direction.”
Local officers involved in the training include Bryant, Siddons, Sgt. Kathy Martin of NNRJ, Josh Scholes of the Warsaw Police Department, Tim Jackson of the TPD, Angela Siddal of the MPRSC, Nancy Johnson of Northumberland County, Travis Martin of Essex County and Eddie Headley of Lancaster County.
NNRJ will be holding a C.I.T. graduation ceremony for officers Friday, June 28 at 10 a.m.