Union County Law Enforcement, Mental Health and Private Industry Come Together to Mark Mental Health Awareness Week

Union County law enforcement and mental health professionals have joined forces to implement Crisis Intervention Team training.  Known as CIT, this 40 hour joint training teaches police and mental health workers to respond to mental health calls using verbal de-escalation skills and less than lethal force.  CIT began in Memphis, TN in 1988 and has since become an internationally certified program.  It is now in 6 New Jersey counties and growing.

Initiated in by Prosecutor Theodore J. Romankow and under the direction of Maureen O’Brien, Esq., Union County has held 6 CIT classes since March 2011 with 3 more scheduled for 2013. Prosecutor Romankow stated “The goal is to have 25 to 30% of the officers in each Union County Police Department certified in CIT.”

As Mental Health Awareness week drew to a close, 25 law enforcement and mental health workers gathered at the John H. Stamler Police Academy in Scotch Plains.    Approximately 25 professionals, consumers and family members volunteered their time and talent to instruct on topics from Identifying Mental Illness to Cultural Competence and Veteran’s Issues.   Trinitas Regional Medical Center and Bridgeway Rehabilitation Services opened their doors for site visits as did the Union County Jail. Superior Court Judge Robert Mega spoke with the class over lunch in his courtroom.  He discussed how individuals with mental illness are dealt with within the criminal courts including efforts to divert from jail and provide treatment as part of a disposition.  Union County NAMI, a partner in this training, provided family insight as well a County Resource Guide and Do’s and Don’t cards that provide ready tips for officers when dealing with individuals with mental illness or their families.

Janssen Pharmaceutical, Phillips 66 and Infineum, recognizing the importance of this training to public safety, provided much needed support sponsoring a continental breakfast or lunch. The generosity of these companies enables the participants to build relationships, which ultimately improves their ability to serve the residents of Union County.  “Let’s face it,” O’Brien said, “if the class left the facility for lunch, cops would go with cops and mental health workers would eat with mental health workers, defeating one of the main goals of the class – collaboration.”