Police training to handle mental health crises available

| 14 Jan 2016 | 04:01

    The Sussex County affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) will host a program to discuss the goal of bringing mental health Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) for police officers to Sussex County at 7 p.m. on Feb. 4.

    The program will begin by showing NAMI New Jersey's 25-minute, award-winning video, The Community I Serve: Law Enforcement and Persons with Mental Illness. The audience will then be provided with information about Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) for police and other law enforcement officers. A discussion about the need for such training will be led by NAMI Sussex president Jeri Doherty and Newton attorney Ernest Hemschot, a NAMI member and ardent mental health advocate who is a former police officer.

    CIT is a 40-hour, weeklong training on how to effectively and safely interact with a person in a mental health crisis. Since the program originated in Memphis, Tennessee in the 1980's, CIT has been used to train law enforcement officers and other community stakeholders in many areas of the country, including 10 counties in New Jersey and the New Jersey state police.

    The New Jersey Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services funds the CIT-NJ Center of Excellence located in Haddon Heights, for which Ed Dobleman serves as director. NAMI New Jersey works closely with Dobleman and the CIT-NJ Center, and NAMI county affiliates play an active role in every New Jersey county that has established CIT trainings.

    According to the CIT-NJ Center, the New Jersey Attorney General's office supports and promotes CIT training, and New Jersey's Chief Justice and the state Judiciary are also highly supportive.

    The CIT-NJ Center of Excellence held its first annual statewide forum on Dec. 7 in New Brunswick. The forum featured keynote speaker Retired Major Sam Cochran, who served as the first CIT Coordinator in Memphis, TN, from 1988-2008. One of several people honored at the forum was NAMI-Warren County President Elaine Fehrenbach, who helped bring Warren County's first CIT training to fruition in the fall of 2014. She also serves as chairwoman of the Warren County Mental Health Board.

    NAMI Sussex President, Jeri Doherty says, "Bringing a CIT program to Sussex County will be a long process," NAMI Sussex President Jeri Doherty said. "The first step will be to establish a local task force, and then task force members will need to work to gain the support and collaboration of the various county stakeholder organizations, especially the Sussex County Police Chiefs Association. NAMI Sussex collaborated with Newton hospital's Psychiatric Emergency Services department, The Center for Prevention and Counseling, and Saint Clare's Intensive Family Support Services in 2010 to develop and deliver a three-hour training to all county municipal police officers. That effort had the support of the county Prosecutor's Office and the municipal Chiefs of Police. But a full-fledged, 40-hour CIT program is a much larger endeavor. However, I am optimistic that if neighboring Warren County could achieve it, Sussex County can, also."

    According to Doherty, CIT does not aim to train every officer of a police department, as was done with the three-hour training NAMI helped provide in 2010.

    "Police departments, especially small ones, cannot be expected to easily absorb the absence of an officer for a full work week. The CIT concept is to train just one or two officers per municipality per year, and those trained officers return to their departments to serve as experts and mentors whenever the department needs to respond to a call believed to involve a person in a mental health crisis," Doherty said.

    The Feb. 4 presentation and discussion on "Law Enforcement and Persons with Mental Illness," will be held at Bridgeway, 93 Stickles Pond Rd., Newton, from 7:00-8:30 p.m. The public is welcome to attend free of charge, and there is no need to register in advance. For further information or directions, call 973-214-0632.