Law enforcement teams focused on mental health
Niagara Gazette - 5/26/2018
May 26--LOCKPORT -- On the streets of cities and towns across Niagara County, members of law enforcement find themselves increasingly challenged by incidents involving people dealing with mental illness.
"We have a lot of people in the community who suffer from mental illness," Niagara County Sheriff's Office Capt. Jill Herrington said. "And this program provides more extensive training than officers received in the (law enforcement) academy to handle these cases."
Training completed on Friday by 26 police officers and Niagara County Sheriff's dispatchers who will join the ranks of newly formed Crisis Intervention Teams or CITs. Harrington will command the sheriff's CIT.
CIT's will also be in service in the Niagara Falls and Lockport Police departments.
"There's a great need for this and we're pleased the New York State Senate has realized this and provided funding," said Dr. Don Kamin, director of the Institute for Police, Mental Health & Community Collaboration. "Law enforcement is increasingly responding to mental health crises and while academy training is good, this specialized training is more helpful."
In the past, officers have frequently found themselves with limited choices when dealing with mental health related incidents. People in crisis are arrested and taken to jail or committed to hospitals. Kamin says there are much better options that can be put in place.
"CIT really revolves around diversion from the criminal justice system to treatment," he said. "The goal is to keep people in the community as best we can."
Harrington agreed, noting that officers in CIT should make fewer arrests and fewer hospital commitments.
"Our hope is we can hook (people with mental health issues) up with resources in the community rather than sending them to the hospital," Harrington said. "We're hoping we'll be able to get them help. Our goal is to keep them out of the criminal justice system."
The CIT class that completed its training Friday included 18 sheriff's deputies and dispatchers, along with two Lockport police officers and six Falls police officers.
Much of the enhanced training focuses on improving officers recognition of mental health cases and teaching them strategies to better communicate with those in crisis.
"Hopefully, it will be a program that will benefit a lot of people," Harrington said.
Out of 18,000 law enforcement agencies nationwide, only 3,000 currently have CIT programs. Twenty of them, including the Niagara County Sheriff's Office and the Falls and Lockport police, are in New York.
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