There has been a sea change in the way police interact with people experiencing mental illness.
In his four decades in law enforcement Kirk Puckett, Director of Community Relations for the Alamance County, North Carolina Sheriff’s Department, has seen a sea change in the way that police interact with people who have mental illnesses in the criminal justice system. “It used to be that police had two options, either arrest that person and take them to jail or send them to the emergency department if they didn’t violate the law,” he said. “Many times we may not even have recognized the person had a mental illness.”
“Every time that a law enforcement officer brings someone in and helps them get connected to services instead of taking them to jail, we’ve done a good thing”, says Sara Huffman, current RHA Regional Director and former Clinical Director for RHA Health Services, which is the county’s crisis service contractor.
Using funding from a JMHCP grant, Alamance County was able to expand the reach of its Stepping Up initiative to include increasing the number of Crisis Intervention Team (CIT)-trained police officers as well as providing mental health first-aid training to detention and court staff, expanding a co-responder pilot program, and establishing a 24-hour diversion center. “We’re not treating people short term, we’re treating them for the long term,” says Puckett.
Since starting the Alamance County Stepping Up, more than 200 police officers have been CIT trained and more than 300 officers have received mental health first-aid training. information sharing has increased across behavioral health and criminal justice agencies, strengthening the collaboration between law enforcement and behavioral health.