Deputy Says Jail Diversion Is A System Wide Concept: Not Only For The Police


I posted a blog criticizing Bryan Wolfe, the Republican candidate for Fairfax County Sheriff,  for comments that he made in a local newspaper about Crisis Intervention Team Training and Jail Diversion. Candidate Wolfe wrote a rebuttal to my comments which I was happy to post. I thought that would be the end of it, but I recently received an email from Kevin Pittman, who is President of the Fairfax Deputy Sheriff’s Union, and a member of the county’s First Diversion Committee, which is crafting and implementing an expanded diversion program in our county. Given his credentials, I’ve decided to post his comments, as he requested. I will let Mr. Wolfe and Sheriff Stacey Kincaid continue to share their different points of view on their own webpages and let Mr. Pittman’s words be the last on mine about diversion and  the differences between the  two candidates.

Dear Mr. Earley,

Recently Republican candidate for Sheriff Bryan Wolfe responded to a blog article written by you that was critical of public statements made by him about Sheriff Stacey Kincaid with regard to CIT and Jail Diversion. Having read both the original blog article and Mr. Wolfe’s response, I find that you are right on with your initial criticism of Mr. Wolfe’s position on this important issue. Allow me to explain why.

Incarcerating persons suffering from mental illness and essentially criminalizing one of our most vulnerable populations is not something new. This has been a tragedy that has been unfolding for decades with only a minority of voices shouting in protest. One of the challenges that exist in lobbying for legislation or funding to remedy this atrocity is the overwhelming complexity and budgetary challenges this unique issue presents. Everyone is looking for a quick, cheap and easy solution and according to Mr. Wolfe CIT is the solution.

Mr. Wolfe attempts to simplify the complicated when it comes to the question of how do we divert persons suffering from mental illness away from criminal justice and into treatment. CIT training is a band aid on an arterial wound and was intended to provide basic tools for law enforcement to de-escalate a crisis but never intended as a fix for our broken mental health system. Our community is going to be asked to make significant financial sacrifices in order to make jail diversion a reality and we need to provide them with an accurate detailed and comprehensive view of both the problem and the solution. Having an understanding of diversion is, in my opinion, a requirement for one seeking election to the Office of Sheriff.

Mr. Wolfe stated “Stacey Kincaid 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.”

It makes sense to learn from nationally recognized “gold standard” jurisdictions that do diversion well and Bexar County Texas by far has set that gold standard. Far too often we in Fairfax County believe that we can do better and do it the “Fairfax Way” with varying degrees of success. Sheriff Kincaid was intelligent enough to realize this and brought leaders in our diversion effort with her to learn from the best to include officials from the Community Services Board and Mental Health rights advocates. This should be applauded instead of criticized. Attempting to make an issue of this is nothing more than political posturing by Mr. Wolfe.

One of the key things that was learned from Bexar was the need for collaboration and a “team” concept amongst the stakeholders. It is clear that Mr. Wolfe does not agree that there should be collaboration between the Office of the Sheriff and other stakeholders to include the police department with his divisive statements and the following quote 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.” 

Mr. Wolfe’s goes on to state “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.”

Jail Diversion is a system wide concept that does not begin and end with patrol officers on the street. It includes post commitment options as well as a mental health court docket with post sentence compliance monitoring all of which fall within the responsibilities of the Office of the Sheriff. I understand to some degree Mr. Wolfe’s confusion with regard to duplication of service and lack of understanding of the collaborative team concept. It has been the Fairfax County way to compartmentalize agencies for many decades leading to sometimes ineffectual policies and inefficiencies. Sheriff Kincaid has taken a leadership role in ensuring that this collaboration takes place and has committed the Office of the Sheriff to an “all in” policy supporting this Jail Diversion effort and as well as other county initiatives. This is the leadership we need on this issue as opposed to the traditional compartmentalized and divisive approach championed by Mr. Wolfe.

I find the following excerpt from Mr. Wolfe’s clarification to be the most disturbing. 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”. 

Aside from running the jail, deputy sheriffs in Fairfax County serve a number of functions within the criminal justice system with full arrest powers and shares concurrent criminal jurisdiction with our police department. Although patrol responsibilities are not our function, at times deputy sheriffs find themselves in encountering persons suffering from mental illness within our community during the course of their duties. It makes sense to ensure that deputy sheriffs are included in any discussion on Jail Diversion and receive the same CIT training and access to resources as any patrol officer. Mr. Wolfe’s lack of understanding about the basic core functions of the Office of the Sheriff is troubling to say the least.

Mr. Wolfe goes on to state in his clarification 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.”

Aside from individuals suffering from mental illness and their families, I would argue that the Office of the Sheriff is the prime stakeholder and beneficiary when it comes to the challenge of successfully diverting our most vulnerable citizens from the criminal justice system. We have seen through this terrible tragedy where the flaws are in our system and are actively working to correct those that can be remedied immediately. From the moment this tragedy occurred, Sheriff Kincaid has worked tirelessly to reassess internal policies and procedures and implement an active CIT training program that is effective and makes sense. Unlike previous attempts to train CIT in Fairfax County, this program is in compliance with state Department of Criminal Justice Services standards which recommends 25 percent training in CIT and highly discourages a 100 percent trained policy. This ensures that our program will remain eligible for grant funding to relieve some of the fiscal burden from our taxpayers while providing adequate resources for this training to continue and expand. That sounds like good stewardship of taxpayer funds to me. Currently the Office of the Sheriff has trained 25 deputy sheriffs in the DCJS approved CIT training as opposed to the 10 cited by Mr. Wolfe, with additional classes scheduled for October and November. Those deputies not receiving the CIT training are receiving a Mental Health First AID instruction course to ensure that everyone within the Office of the Sheriff has some degree of training when encountering persons suffering from mental illness. It is obvious to me that Sheriff Kincaid is not only sold on the concept of CIT, but also committed to its implementation.

With the recommendations made by the Fairfax County Police Ad Hoc Commission Mental Health Subcommittee, and with the Board of Supervisors public commitment to standing up a workable diversion program by January 1, 2016, we have moved well beyond Mr. Wolfe’s vision for correcting this problem with CIT training for deputies.

My interest is in insuring that our community understands the financial commitment required in the implementation of an effective Jail Diversion program and, for the first time, I think we have the full support of the community in the wake of Ms. Natasha McKenna’s tragic death. I find Mr. Wolfe to be ill informed and a distraction to the real substantive work that is being done to create an effective diversion program. In summary, I agree with Mr. Earley’s initial analysis of candidate Wolfe.


Kevin Pittman

President, Fairfax Deputy Sheriffs Union

Kevin Pittman is President of the Fairfax Deputy Sheriffs Union, a member of Virginia’s Department of Criminal Justice Services Board, and serves on Fairfax County’s Diversion First Committee, the Fairfax Police Ad Hoc Commission Mental Health Subcommittee as well as Governor McAuliffe’s Public Safety Transition Committee on Mental Health


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.