A graduation ceremony for the Deputies who were the first to participate in the training academy, was held on May 21, 2010 at the Durant Center, located at 1605 Cameron Street. Mayor Bill Euille, Sheriff Dana Lawhorne, Police Chief Earl Cook and Liz Wixson from the Department of Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Substance Abuse spoke to the graduating class.
Sheriff’s graduates were: Lt. John Kapetanis and Deputies Stephen Mackey, George Gray, Robert Rowland, James Gualtney and Larry Richardson.
Police graduates were: Officers Michael Nugent, Daniel Gordon, Ian Torrance, Angel Roa, Emil Takeuchi, Tara May and Diana Barrett.
The CIT program is a collaborative initiative of the Department of Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Substance Abuse, the Alexandria Police Department and the Alexandria Sheriff’s Office. Through their 40 hours of training, Deputies learned valuable crisis recognition and intervention skills, including recognition of psychiatric and substance use disorders, suicide intervention, verbal de-escalation techniques, the role of the family in the care of a person with mental illness, and legal training in mental health and substance abuse issues. In addition to classroom instruction, staff also participated in role playing exercises based on real-life scenarios. The Deputies also spent an entire day visiting mental health and substance abuse inpatient and outpatient treatment facilities where they had the opportunity to engage in one-on-one dialogue with mental health consumers, and learn about resources available to help people in crisis.
CIT is based on a model developed by the Memphis Police Department in 1988 following a Police shooting of a mentally ill person, and has since been adopted in communities in 45 states. While many programs involve police officers only, Alexandria’s CIT program includes Sheriff’s Deputies as well, as they often work with persons with mental illness and substance use problems, particularly in the Alexandria Detention Center.
The training is designed to educate and prepare the participants who come into contact with people with mental illnesses to recognize the signs and symptoms of these illnesses and to respond effectively and appropriately to individuals in crisis. Since law enforcement officers are often the first responders in these incidents, it is essential that they understand how mental illnesses can alter people’s behaviors and perceptions. The trained CIT Deputy is skilled at de-escalating crises involving people with mental illness, while bringing an element of understanding and compassion to these difficult situations. CIT is one of a number of cooperative, multi-agency initiatives currently underway in Alexandria to help divert persons with mental illness and substance use disorders away from the criminal justice system and into the treatment system, enabling them to live law-abiding and productive lives in our community.