The El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office has been 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.
The CIT is a group of deputies assigned to the Patrol Division who are specially trained in the areas of recognizing and understanding mental illness and brain disorders, sharing resources available as support for those individuals and understanding 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.
The CIT Deputies duties include assessing and identifying the needs of subjects with mental illness or special needs such as autism, dementia, brain trauma, addictions, etc…; 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 meetings — all along with their regular patrol duties.
The multi-disciplinary team meetings are facilitated by CIT. The team includes representatives from the Sheriff’s Office, Placerville and South Lake Tahoe Police Departments, El Dorado County Probation, Mental Health, Public Health, Adult Protective Services, Child Protective Services, County Code Enforcement, the District Attorney’s Office, the Public Defender’s Officer and the National Alliance for Mental Illness. A referral may come to MDT through anyone of these sources. Once a consumer comes to the attention of MDT this team works cooperatively to find the best solutions to stabilize the situation.
Examples of success
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 instance involves a subject who had suffered brain trauma, was transient and on parole. He was in and out of jail over a three-year period for violating his parole because he was unable to charge his GPS monitor. Each incarceration was at an increased expense to the community because of pre-existing medical conditions. A CIT member brought the case to multi-disciplinary team and was able to work with Mental Health and the Public Guardian to assist him with SSI and housing.
And a final 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.
Building a team
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. At that point, deputies and sergeants, who also recognized the need for CIT, became actively involved. They volunteered knowing it would be additional work with no glamour.
The team grew from a full-time sergeant and four intermittent deputy positions to consist of a lieutenant, two sergeants and 15 deputy sheriffs out of both the Placerville and Tahoe offices. Four more deputies are scheduled to attend training this month and there are seven additional deputies, formerly CIT, with the specialized training certified by Peace Officer’s Standards and Training. These deputies are in other assignments including detectives, narcotics and the Special Enforcement Detail.
Utilizing the grant
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 crises 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.
Nationally, sheriff’s offices and police departments report that 14 percent of all calls for service have a mental illness component and a disproportionate percentage of these calls involve violence. Often it is the mental health consumer who is the victim of violence but frequently the victim is a family member or loved one.
Along with CIT, because those with mental illness make up a disproportionate population in the county jails, the Sheriff’s Office is working with the Mental Health Department to provide resources to assist individuals, with a mental health diagnosis, to make the transition from custody to the community. This includes continuous mental health care with the goal to reduce crime and recidivism while assisting the individual to meet their needs.
“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,” D’Agostini said. “Under Lt. Jackie Noren’s leadership we have more than tripled the size of our team.”
The $250,000 Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Program Grant ver the next two years will help CIT continue to provide and improve services that will have a positive impact on the quality of life in our county for every resident.