Fairfax Sheriff Candidate Responds To My Blog About Diversion and CIT

Bryan Wolfe

Bryan Wolfe

I recently published a blog critical of Bryan Wolfe, the Republican candidate for Fairfax County (Va.) Sheriff running against incumbent Sheriff Stacey A. Kincaid, a Democrat. I wrote that quotes attributed to Mr. Wolfe, a retired police officer who has Crisis Intervention Team training, showed a lack of understanding about jail diversion. Mr. Wolfe felt my blog mischaracterized his views. Here is his response. 

CIT, Jail Diversion and the Sheriff’s Office

Several weeks ago Pete Earley posted a blog about comments I made during an interview with a Fairfax Times newspaper reporter.  Mr. Earley questioned my understanding of a crisis intervention diversion program.  Unless you are a law enforcement officer, it’s difficult for most citizens to understand the true meaning of a diversion program.  So let me take a moment to explain my views.

First you must understand that a fully operational diversion program requires an incredible amount of funding to get started. It must also be a collaborative effort by the local government, judicial system, community mental health treatment facilities and local stakeholders. Unfortunately Fairfax has just now started a new Diversion First program and it will take several years for all the stakeholders and the funding for it to become fully operational. People suffering from mental illness are being swept up in our criminal justice system – right now. Keeping them safe is not something that we can wait to do and there are several changes that need to be made right now.

The police and sheriff’s office have different roles. Our police are responsible for enforcing the laws and making the community safe. They are the first responders when dealing with persons who are mentally ill. The sheriff’s office turned over all law enforcement responsibilities in our county to the police department back in 1942.  Deputies are not responsible for making arrests or investigating crimes. The sheriff’s main responsibility is running the jail. With that being said, the sheriff should be focusing all of her time on how to keep jail inmates safe and secure.  The police are the ones and the only ones deciding who and when a person is a candidate for the diversion program. You may have noticed that I haven’t written one word about the role of the sheriff or her deputies in diversion. That is because the deputies have no involvement or discretion about who is brought to the jail.  

The sheriff should be constantly reassessing policies and procedures to ensure that deputies are providing the safest environment for inmates and staff.  Sheriff Stacey Kincaid should be able to recognize the critical needs of the facility and her responsibilities as sheriff — not duplicating the role of the police department. 

When we think of how the sheriff’s office is dealing with the mentally ill we should know that as many as 40%-60% of Fairfax inmates have or are experiencing mental illness.  These people are under the sheriff’s control right now.  They are her responsibility. Currently, there are no policies or procedures in the jail aimed at getting the mentally ill out of jail into treatment.  As I explained, the diversion program only helps police officers divert persons from the jail.   Since that is the case, my question is: “Why has Sheriff Kincaid spent all of her time lobbying for the Diversion First program?” — especially since there are no policies in the jail to divert prisoners and the police decide who will be diverted?

The Natasha McKenna tragedy showed us that the sheriff and her deputies have no credible training when it comes to deescalating someone experiencing a mental health crisis.  If we expect deputies to be taking care of prisoners with mental disorders, then why aren’t they being trained in Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training? That is where the sheriff should be focusing.

The Fairfax County Police Department is committed to providing CIT training to every officer. Every one.

Before the McKenna tragedy, the Sheriff refused to accept CIT training.  During the past campaign, she said that “CIT may be good for the police department but not in a controlled environment.”  Instead of training her deputies, Sheriff Kincaid has trusted the Community Service Board staff to be the only source of communication with the mentally ill in the jail. 

CIT international only require 25% of a  department to be trained in CIT.  Fairfax County Police have more than 300 of their officers trained and department plans on training the entire department.  Sheriff Kincaid has only trained ten deputies out of 125 deputies that need to be trained and she only did that after the McKenna death.  These numbers are very disturbing, especially since I cautioned her about her lack of commitment to CIT and the mentally ill in my 2013 campaign when I ran for sheriff. She completely ignored the whole CIT concept and only after the Natasha McKenna tragedy has she finally committed herself to training her people and working to prevent persons with mentally illness from being brought to the jail.

I want her, and I think most of the county’s residents, want her to focus on her responsibilities as a sheriff and to train her deputies with CIT now. 

 She wasted taxpayer’s money by taking a delegation and news crew to film her observe the sheriff’s office in Bexar  County, Texas. Bexar County is a full service sheriff’s office with law enforcement responsibilities. As I explained, our sheriff’s department is not a full service department with law enforcement responsibilities. Our deputies have only one job. Running the jail. Sheriff Stacey Kincaid and her deputies will never experience law enforcement responsibilities on the street. If she wanted to learn about CIT, Sheriff Kincaid could have observed one of the best CIT programs by visiting  Loudoun County (Va.)  and Arlington County (Va.).

 My point is that Sheriff Kincaid needs to train the deputies now.  Un-trained deputies already killed one woman suffering from mental illness.  Recent protests have shown that the community is angry about the way that Sheriff Kincaid and her deputies killed Natasha McKenna. In 2013, I called for CIT training in the jail and if elected that will be a priority to me. 

I also will install cameras in the jail.  Sheriff Kincaid has said that cameras will not change inmates’ and deputies’ behaviors.  Sheriff Kincaid has repeatedly said that CIT and cameras “Are a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.” 

 Here in Fairfax County we have cameras at our animal shelter as well as at the I-66 waste transfer station, but not in our jail where people have lost their liberty and can be abused. 

 That’s really atrocious.  

 Fairfax County and the entire nation have seen the Natasha McKenna video. There clearly is a “problem” and that problem is Sheriff Kincaid along with Commonwealth Attorney Ray Morrogh for their handling of the McKenna tragedy.  

Mr. Earley, we are on the same sheet of music when it comes to helping the mentally ill and insuring that they receive good and safe care while they are in jail.  The sheriff’s office needs new fresh eyes.  My eyes saw the critical needs in the sheriff’s office in 2013 when it came to training deputies and improving care for persons with mental illnesses in our jail.  Sheriff Kincaid wanted to ignore the problems that were so obvious to me. Instead, she assured the citizens that mentally ill people were safe in the jail when they were not and they still are not. The police are making strides in the Diversion First Program. Sheriff Kincaid continues to drag her feet in training CIT officers. 

    A mother and daughter had to die to wake up county officials and make them see the problem.  That’s very sad. It is even sadder that Sheriff Kincaid still is failing to keep persons with mental illness in the jail safe by not training those 125 officers right now.


Bryan Wolfe

You can read more of my views at Wolfe For Sheriff

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.