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Crisis team recognized

Published 10:53pm Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Western Tidewater Community Services Board on Tuesday recognized a planning group that is developing the first Crisis Intervention Team program in Western Tidewater.

The goal of the team is to encourage partnership between mental health providers and the criminal justice system. With funding eroding for mental health programs, more of the mentally ill population is losing access to treatment and coming into contact with law enforcement, officials said Tuesday.

“I think we’re going to make huge strides diverting people from the criminal justice system as a result of this effort,” Suffolk Police Department Maj. Stephanie Burch said during the meeting.

The Crisis Intervention Team is conducting training for police officers to help them improve their interactions with mentally ill members of the public, said Karen Nicely, a clinical administrator for the Western Tidewater Community Services Board. The police department already has committed to sending all of its dispatchers and about 16 officers to the first training, which is a “huge” allocation of resources, Nicely said.

“The amount of work that goes into that final result is phenomenal,” Nicely said.

While a temporary goal is to improve interactions between law enforcement and the mentally ill, the ultimate goal is to help the mentally ill get early identification and consistent treatment for their condition so that it does not rise to the level of needing law enforcement to intervene.

“It’s a brain disorder,” Nicely said. “It’s about getting early intervention and treatment for people. Why would we want to incarcerate somebody because of a mental illness?”

The planning team has been working for about a year to develop the Crisis Intervention Team. It includes representatives from the Western Tidewater Community Services Board, Suffolk Police Department, the Western Tidewater Regional Jail, the magistrate and the National Alliance on Mental Illness Suffolk.

“CIT is a valuable tool for our officers,” Burch said in a press release. “We anticipate that it will reduce the amount of time spent on calls for service involving the mentally ill because we will have a more effective way of handling their problems. In addition, we hope to see a reduction in emergency custody orders, because people will get treatment before their behavior escalates to a civil detention. We see this program as a win-win for the law enforcement and the community.”

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