MENTAL HEALTH COALITION IN PINELLAS COUNTY
History was made in Florida in March 1999 when uniformed patrol sheriff’s deputies and police officers completed the state’s first-ever 40-hour Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) for Law Enforcement Officers course in how to properly and professionally respond to all calls pertaining to persons with mental illness in crisis. In communities throughout the United States, persons with mental illness often have encounters with law enforcement officers. Sometimes these turn into “fatal encounters” for the officer, the mentally ill person, or an innocent by-stander. As mental hospitals close and jails are overcrowded with the mentally ill, little seems to be done to improve the situation by government services at any level.
In July 1997, the Mental Health Coalition (MHC), of Pinellas County, Florida, was developed. This working-group comprised of mental health providers, consumers, practitioners, government officials, representatives from the law enforcement community and other interested parties focuses on developing a jail-diversion and prevention program. Since the police are the first to come into contact with a person with a mental illness in crisis, it is imperative to have someone who is trained to remain calm and contain the situation as opposed to exacerbating it. Learning that most officers receive little or no training in how to deal with mental illness, the MHC took the initiative to design, develop and deliver a Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) course.
CIT was tailored for officers who volunteer and function within the mainstream of patrol officer duties, work in the community on a daily basis, respond to calls relating to the mentally ill, and after this specialized training, respond to all calls relating to mental disturbances throughout the entire jurisdiction. Success in developing CIT came as a result of a Community Partnership of families, organizations and academia. It also added an infusion of law enforcement expertise as a guide for the group when encountering procedural roadblocks. Most presenters came from outside the law enforcement community, but they are professionals in the mental health field. The five-day, 40-hour comprehensive course is free.
As a result of the endeavor, several additional counties in Florida have conducted similar training programs under the guidance of the MHC. The 39 affiliates of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) in Florida, and all Department of Children and Families, Alcohol, Drug Abuse and Mental Health program offices statewide were made aware of CIT. Presently, more than 300 officers from four counties and 15 different law enforcement agencies in the Tampa Bay area have completed CIT, with another class scheduled for May 2002. CIT has become institutionalized in Pinellas County. MHC is on a mission to have CIT in law enforcement agencies throughout Florida and the nation.