NAMI Indiana: Mental Health and Criminal Justice Summit

Mar 31

I recently attended the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Indiana’s Criminal Justice Summit in Indianapolis, IN. The morning’s keynote speaker was Major Sam Cochran (ret.), who is nationally known for his work in developing the Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) model in Memphis, TN.

Cochran’s message was clear: CIT is not just a law enforcement program; CIT is a community program and should be recognized as a community priority. It should involve not only law enforcement officers and dispatchers, but also prosecutors, judges, emergency room personnel, physicians, nurses, psychiatrists, therapists, the community mental health center, and other community resource centers.

CIT is not just a law enforcement program; CIT is a community program and should be recognized as a community priority.

Cochran pointed out that a crisis may be the first step in a person’s recovery, but only if all components of the system work. Far too often, officers can do everything right to de-escalate a tense situation and transport a person in crisis to a treatment center only to have that person turned away or released in a matter of hours without receiving a psychiatric evaluation and any necessary treatment.

I heard several times that funding is key. In many situations, people who need help are turned away due to a lack of “beds.” Paul Weinzapfel, Uniformed Division Supervisor of the Warrick County Sheriff’s Office, presented some of the resource challenges his office faced in obtaining CIT training. With miles of county roads to patrol, the county sheriff had a tough time freeing up officers to take the 40 hours of training. To overcome this obstacle, they called in volunteer reservists to handle the easy calls, like dogs barking and disturbing the neighbors and called on other local law enforcement agencies to help patrol some of the county roads. 24 of the sheriff’s 38 officers now have CIT training, and there is always a CIT-trained officer on duty.

Officer Weinzapfel listed some of the benefits he has seen from the CIT program in Warrick County:

  • People are getting help!
  • Families have someone to help them help their loved one.
  • Our deputies understand that mental illness is just that — an illness.
  • Citizen compliments have gone through the roof.
  • We now know what to do when responding to help someone with mental illness.
  • We have developed strong relationships with the hospitals and mental health professionals in our area.

The afternoon’s keynote speaker was Kevin Hines, author of Cracked, Not Broken: Surviving and Thriving After a Suicide Attempt.

I also attended an afternoon breakout session on verbal de-escalation by Major Cochran, which I’ll post about later.

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