How Can Someone Who Is “CIT Certified” Not Understand CIT? – Troubling Statements By Sheriff Candidate


A recent front page story in my local newspaper caused me to wonder if some law enforcement officers actually understand Crisis Intervention Team training even though they publicly endorse it.

In a newspaper interview under the headline: Fairfax Sheriff’s Race Heats Up, a veteran police officer now running to be our sheriff made several troubling comments. According to his webpage, Byron Wolfe is a strong proponent of CIT, listing it as one of his top priorities if elected.

Bryon Wolfe

Bryon Wolfe

But he’s quoted in the newspaper completely dismissing his opponent’s efforts to implement jail diversion.

“Wolfe…said focusing on (jail) diversion programs deters the sheriff’s department’s attention away from handling mental illness within the jails.

“The Fairfax County police are the ones that deal with diversion,” Wolfe said. “The Fairfax County Sheriff’s deputies — they’re not involved in that decision making. They’re just going to wait and see if a prisoner is brought to them. Waiting for a huge diversion program — that’s not going to happen: who has the funding for that?

Wolfe said his campaign platform instead is set on restoring the county’s trust in the department. He said he aims to do this by installing cameras in the jail to record ‘the good and the bad.'”

Thinking that jail diversion is only a issue for the police goes directly against the core principles of CIT. If you check the CIT International website — the parent organization of CIT — you will find this statement:

CIT Basic Goals: *Improve Officer and Consumer Safety. *Redirect Individuals with Mental Illness from the Judicial System to the Health Care System.

That second goal is Jail Diversion.

In an email to me, Sam Cochren,  the Father of CIT, was blunt when I asked him if CIT training for police was sufficient.

 “Police training is great, but training without supportive state, county, and local support and participation is a cosmetic approach: a Band-Aid approach at best.”

To be fully effective, CIT requires cooperation between law enforcement, including sheriff’s departments, mental health providers, the judicial and other community stakeholders. The best diversion programs insure persons who are in crisis are directed to assessment centers, rather than jails and emergency rooms. They utilize mental health courts to get individuals into community treatment, and re-entry programs.

On his website, Wolfe lists his qualifications, which are impressive.

Police Achievements

  • Two Time Police Officer of the Year
  • Five Time Police Officer of the Month
  • Over 130 citations for distinguished service
  • Served with the Fairfax City Police Association for 26 years; served 8 years as Vice President and President
  • Police Honor Guard
  • Emergency Service Team Member / Sniper
  • Motorcycle Squad
  • Patrol Sergeant
  • Detective Sergeant
  • Narcotic Detective
  • Crisis Intervention Team Certified

Which makes me wonder: How can someone with that much experience, who is CIT certified,  not understand such a basic goal of CIT?

Also troubling is Wolfe’s comment that there is no funding for jail diversion.  Forty percent of our local jail’s 1,100 inmates have mental illness and/or co-occurring substance abuse issues. Nationally, these individuals remain incarcerated 4-8 times longer than inmates charged with the exact same crimes at a cost 7 times higher, making their incarceration a financial burden for taxpayers, as well as, a social/health/justice issue. The average annual per inmate cost in our local jail is roughly $50,000.  The cost of providing someone who is diverted from jail into intensive case management is $7,500. You do the math.

The national model for jail diversion is Bexar County, Texas, which diverts more than 4,000 inmates into appropriate mental health services saving at least $5 million annually in jail costs and $4 million annually preventing inappropriate admissions to emergency rooms. Use of force in Bexar County in the jail dropped from 50 incidents per year, to 3 incidents in six years.

Wolfe asked: “Who has funding for that?” A smarter question is: Who wants to continue wasting tax dollars without results?

Mental illness is a big issue right now in the sheriff’s race because of the tragic death earlier this year of Natasha McKenna, a 37 year old black woman with schizophrenia who died after being repeatedly stunned with a taser inside the jail. That death has made the incumbent sheriff Stacey A. Kincaid vulnerable because it happened under her watch. The public is still waiting for her to release a video of that incident. So far, no one involved has been disciplined.

Sheriff Stacey Kincaid

Sheriff Stacey Kincaid

But let’s look at what Sheriff Kincaid has done since the McKenna tragedy.

She personally led a delegation to Bexar County, Texas, where she was briefed about its program. When she returned, she began lobbying others at the Fairfax courthouse, including judges, to help her start the process of creating a jail diversion program. A mental health docket is a key to successful diversion programs and she helped convince a judge to consider sponsoring one.

Kincaid then joined mental health officials in creating a Diversion First commission that attracted forty-nine community leaders, including four Fairfax judges, to its first meeting. Kincaid attended that meeting and said that she is committed to implementing the “Memphis Model” of CIT, which is the gold standard. She also supported the commission’s announcement that it would push for adoption of  a Bexar County-like diversion model in Fairfax by January 2016.

The sheriff also sent one of her top deputies to participate in the Ad Hoc Police Practices Review Commission that was created by the county’s board of supervisors. That deputy serves on the subcommittee on mental health and has been actively helping that subcommittee draw up recommendations to prevent future McKenna incidents.

Those are all positive steps toward greatly improving mental health services in Fairfax County.

Now let’s talk for a moment about cameras in jails. While knowing you are being monitored may be helpful, cameras in jails can be easily circumvented. There were cameras in the Miami Dade County Detention Center where I did my research for my book. The deputies simply beat inmates in their cells out of view of the cameras.

Cameras do not make for better deputies. CIT training does. It helps change attitudes. It helps deputies see inmates as people who are sick rather than trouble makers who need to be punished and, at the risk of being redundant, CIT includes jail diversion.

Many of us have been trying for years to get Fairfax County to establish a jail diversion program that includes a crisis assessment center and mental health docket. Because of McKenna’s death, we finally are making significant progress — progress that will save lives and money. If Wolfe wants the local mental health community to support him, he will need to better educate himself about what implementing CIT really requires and he will join Sheriff Kincaid in pushing for jail diversion. His statement that diversion “deters the sheriff’s department’s attention away from handling mental illness within jails” reflects badly outdated thinking —  the  equivalent of insisting that the world is flat.

About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.