By Joe Kinnan
Special to the Leader-Call
An immensely important transformation is sweeping the United States, and the Jones County Sheriff’s Department and Laurel Police Department are spearheading the effort in our state. I’m referring to the formation of Crisis Intervention Teams that consist of collaborations between mental health professionals, law enforcement officers, court administrators, advocacy groups and families of people challenged with mental illness. Thanks to our law enforcement teams and Pine Belt Mental Healthcare Resources, the Pine Belt area has become a CIT center of excellence.
CIT was initially developed in Memphis in 1987 as a result of a terrible incident where a man was shot numerous times by police officers when he brandished a knife. He suffered from serious mental illness, and it appeared that nobody attempted to de-escalate him prior to the shooting. The community was outraged and demanded action to prevent future incidents involving people with mental health issues.
As a result, the University of Memphis helped develop a CIT training program, with the assistance of many other agencies, including the National Alliance on Mental Illness. The Memphis CIT Model has flourished worldwide and was initially brought to Mississippi thanks to Sheriff Billy Sollie from Lauderdale County. Sheriff Alex Hodge from Jones County was quick to embrace the concept here, and he even helped establish a training team to assist other counties and cities to benefit from the comprehensive 40-hour CIT course, emphasizing an appreciation for the nature of mental illness and the appropriate ways to de-escalate individuals who are experiencing a mental health crisis.
The Laurel Police Department quickly joined the training team and helped host courses to improve the outlook for citizens who experience mental health challenges, using this essential jail diversion method to improve the safety of all concerned. Numerous officers from the sheriff’s Ddepartment and local police units, including Laurel and Ellisville, became proficient in responding to mental health calls.
Thanks to the dedicated efforts, the skill development and the compassion of the CIT graduates, this entire area of the state is much safer. Each jail diversion encounter provides appropriate treatment to the vulnerable people who need it, and the counties and cities save significant amounts of money. It is much more expensive to incarcerate individuals than to provide them with much-needed mental health care. Once the people are stabilized and receiving correct medications, they are no longer a threat to themselves and others.
The members of NAMI congratulate the Jones County Sheriff’s Office and the Laurel Police Department for their roles in developing and conducting CIT training in this area. The future of the program is assured thanks to several federal grants that have been issued based on their success thus far. Anyone interested in joining NAMI is encouraged to contact the organization at 601-550-8219.
Col. Joe Kinnan, USAF, Ret., Secretary, NAMI-MS Pine Belt Affiliate.