The El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office was awarded a two-year $250,000 Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Program Grant. The award from the U.S. Department of Justice will be used to assist the sheriff’s Crisis Intervention Team.
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The CIT is a group of deputies assigned to the Patrol Division that are specially trained in the areas of recognizing and understanding mental illness and brain disorders, resources available as support for those individuals and the impact on families dealing with loved ones who suffer from the trauma of severe mental illness.
The CIT was originally developed based upon the national recognition that law enforcement needed to take an alternate approach when dealing with the mentally ill. The approach was an attempt to try to reduce dangerous encounters with law enforcement and the non-productive housing of the mentally ill within jail facilities.
Duties include: Assessing and identifying the needs of subjects with mental illness or special needs such as autism, dementia, brain trauma, addictions and more. Identifying and referring subjects to resources not commonly known or used during the routine handling of calls for service, case management and follow-up, the maintenance of contacts, providing briefing training to co-workers, and attending monthly Multi-Disciplinary Team (MDT) meetings; along with their regular patrol duties.
The MDT meetings are facilitated by CIT. The team includes representatives from the Sheriff’s Office, Placerville and South Lake Tahoe Police departments, County Probation, Mental Health, Public Health, Adult Protective Services, Child Protective Services, County Code Enforcement, the District Attorney’s Office, the Public Defender’s Office and the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI). A referral may come to MDT through any one of these sources.
In one example, an elderly subject was making repeated 911 calls claiming people and animals were at his home trying to harm him and he was arming himself for protection. Patrol deputies referred the case to CIT. The CIT deputies, through home visits, were able to establish a relationship. They discovered he was a veteran and were able to get him assistance through Veterans Affairs. They removed the weapons and the repeated calls stopped.
Another example that could have had far-reaching devastating effects was a young man who had come to the attention of CIT because he had written and sent disturbing letters about dismembering people. He also had a long history of mental illness and treatment. Through CIT follow-up and MDT discussions it was discovered the young man had enlisted in the armed forces. He had failed to disclose his past mental health status and was in boot camp in another state. An official was contacted, the subject was discharged and returned to the home of family members where he could continue treatment and be monitored.
When Sheriff John D’Agostini took office he recognized the continued and increasing need for CIT and encouraged its expansion. In 2012, while maintaining his philosophy of utilizing resources conservatively, D’Agostini made CIT a collateral assignment within the Patrol Division.
The Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Program Grant was written and submitted by members of CIT with the assistance of EDSO Reserve Deputy Gail Wilzynski (Ret.). The most significant benefit of the grant is the ability for CIT deputies to schedule time to work exclusively on follow-up, home visits and advanced officer training; these are vital in reducing, delaying or preventing mental health crisis’s which cause repeated emergency calls for service. During the home visits deputies often educate families about resources, make safety assessments and may remove weapons.
The grant also includes providing training to all EDSO deputies, other first responders (including Fire and Emergency Medical Services), and county employees who have frequent contact with the public in El Dorado and neighboring counties. This training will focus on recognizing the indicators of mental illness, techniques for managing these contacts, and methods for alerting the appropriate agencies.
Sheriff D’Agostini said, “The Crisis Intervention Team serves an important role in attempting to reduce dangerous encounters, and recognizing those who may need mental health resources or support,” and, “under Lt. Jackie Noren’s leadership we have more than tripled the size of our team.”