Since the publication of my book, CRAZY, Patti and I have underwritten the cost of giving a CRISIS INTERVENTION TEAM AWARD each year to worthy law enforcement officers in Fairfax or Arlington Counties, both Virginia suburbs of Washington D.C.. The National Alliance on Mental Illness -Northern Virginia Chapter selects the recipient. In addition to a plaque, the department gets $500 for its CIT trainers to use as they wish.
We began this award because we both believe CIT training is needed in every community. I’ve heard it said that the police will deal with more persons with mental disorders than psychiatrists will during an average day. CIT training teaches law enforcement officers about mental illnesses and how to best handle potentially deadly encounters.
This year, our son “Mike” was our representative at the NAMI awards banquet. I asked him to present the award because I believe it is important for persons with mental disorders and the police to work together for the benefit of all of us. Several years ago, Mike was shot twice with a taser by Fairfax County police officers when he was in the midst of a breakdown. None of those police officers had CIT training. If they had, I do not believe my son would have been shot. He would have been treated respectfully and gone peaceably to a mental health facility. Mike now speaks regularly at CIT training sessions.
The winners this year came from Arlington County CIT where Coordinator Christina Clarkson runs one of the best training programs that I’ve seen. She is a powerful advocate for both law enforcement and persons with mental problems. In the last year, the number of Arlington County personnel trained jumped from 123 to 176 officers. By December 2012, that number should exceed 250.
Even more impressive, Clarkson has introduced CIT training to emergency communication center dispatchers and to court MAGISTRATES! Clarkson’s CIT team created an eight hour course specifically for court officials as part of the country’s jail diversion program. This is a significant achievement because magistrates and judges are often clueless about mental disorders even though many of the defendants who appear in their courts have a severe mental illness.
Arlington CIT is currently developing a special curriculum for PROBATION and PAROLE officers, and a refresher course for already trained CIT officers. The CIT training program uses incidents that happened in Arlington so that its classes can be realistic.
NAMI selected five recipients for this year’s award. They are:
CAPTAIN ANDY PENN,
OFFICER GARRETT BOMBARD,
SERGEANT ELISCO PILCO,
OFFICER BEN BROWN-BIEBER
DEPUTY ANDREW FLOWERS
I want to publicly congratulate them. I wish every county in Virginia had a CIT program as good as Arlington County’s.
I receive emails every week from people asking me how they can help improve mental health care in our country. A great way to begin is by making certain that CIT training is happening in your community. If it isn’t, start pounding on doors.
CIT saves lives!