Alexandria’s Crisis Intervention Team added 17 new members in March when nine police officers, five sheriff’s deputies, two fire department supervisors and one probation officer graduated from the eighth CIT training. The classes are part of the ongoing effort to instruct all City first responders and Detention Center personnel in techniques to improve staff interactions and outcomes with persons with mental illness and substance use disorders. The training was developed in collaboration with the Department of Community and Human Services, the Alexandria Police Department and the Alexandria Sheriff’s Office. Graduates received their certificates and congratulations from Deputy Chief of Police Blaine Corle, Captain Frank Milano, and Liz Wixson, Director of Clinical and Emergency Services at DCHS.
Unlike most CIT programs across the country, which are comprised solely of police officers, Alexandria’s program includes staff from all first responding agencies to ensure that a comprehensive, City-wide approach is in place to assist residents with mental illness. Through their 40 hours of training, these first responders learn skills such as 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, officers participate in role playing exercises based on real-life scenarios and spend a day visiting mental health and substance abuse inpatient and outpatient treatment facilities where they have the opportunity to engage in one-on-one dialogue with mental health consumers. To date, more than 130 first responders have graduated from this intensive training.
CIT is based on a model developed by the Memphis Police Department in 1988 following a police shooting of a person with mental illness and has since been adopted in communities in 45 states. The training is designed to educate and prepare police and other officials who come in contact with people with mental illnesses to recognize the signs and symptoms and to respond effectively and appropriately. Because police officers are often the first to respond to someone in crisis, it is essential that they understand how mental illnesses can alter people's behaviors and perceptions.
CIT is one of a number of cooperative, multi-agency initiatives currently operating under Alexandria’s Criminal Justice/Behavioral Health Collaboration. The goal of the Collaboration is 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.