$1.65 million, 5-year grant to aid law enforcement in identifying, working with individuals with mental health issues, substance abuse disorders; 15 local law enforcement jurisdictions have already received CIT training, including City of Tonawanda, Town of Cheektowaga
Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz joined Congressman Brian Higgins, City of Tonawanda Mayor Rick Davis, Commissioner of Mental Health Michael Ranney, Commissioner of Central Police Services James Jancewicz, and Police Chief William Strassburg with representatives of the City of Tonawanda Police Department at the Tonawanda City Police HQ to announce an early diversion grant of $1.65 million over five years to provide crisis intervention training ("CIT") to law enforcement agencies across Erie County.
CIT has been implemented in Erie County since 2013, educating law enforcement personnel on how to interact with individuals with mental health disorders. To date, 15 local jurisdictions have received the training, including jail personnel in the Erie County Sheriff's Office and Transit Police with the Niagara Frontier Transit Authority.
"Law enforcement personnel are on the front lines of our communities all day, every day, and they routinely come into contact with individuals who need help but may be experiencing the effects of extreme stress, depression, a mental disorder or substance abuse. An informed and compassionate approach in these moments is critical and can greatly affect the outcome of these interactions, getting these individuals the treatment they need rather than punishing them," Poloncarz said. "With this grant, more officers countywide will be equipped with the tools they need to identify and work with troubled individuals, helping to defuse crisis situations and keeping communities safer."
Higgins said, "In cases where mental health and addiction are contributing factors, the best way to prevent future infractions is to get to the root cause of the problem. This provides our dedicated police officers with tools and training to steer people they encounter in the line of duty toward community resources that offer people a better path forward."
CIT provides law enforcement personnel with techniques to more effectively interact with individuals suffering from mental health issues or who may be dealing with a substance abuse problem. The goal of the training is to steer these individuals into treatment rather than arrest them, diverting them from the criminal system into the behavioral health system. The skills acquired in the training are beneficial to law enforcement personnel handling crisis situations and helps them to de-escalate the interaction as well as avoid the use of force and decrease the incidence of potential violence.
Assistant Chief James Speyer of the Town of Cheektowaga Police Department, which has the largest CIT-trained staff in Erie County, was also at the announcement, as was Jessica Pirro, CEO of Crisis Services, the agency that will provide the expanded training. In addition to the Town of Cheektowaga and the City of Tonawanda, CIT-trained police departments in Erie County also include the Towns of Tonawanda, Amherst, Orchard Park, West Seneca, Evans and Hamburg, and the State University Police at the University at Buffalo. The City of Buffalo Police Department will transition into CIT in 2018-19.
"The goal of crisis intervention team training is to assist people with mental health conditions and substance use disorders access treatment. This diversionary effort is intended to help keep these individuals out of the criminal justice system. Training also promotes safety of the officer and of a person who may be in crisis, Ranney said. "We are very pleased to have gotten this grant, which was written in collaboration with the University of Buffalo Research Foundation. It enhances our existing program by adding training specific to substance use disorders."
Pirro said, "Crisis Services is thrilled that Erie County was recognized by SAMSHA with this grant award to enhance our crisis intervention team training and case management program. The Crisis Services CIT program has proven to enrich the approach and response of law enforcement when working with someone with a mental illness by infusing empathy, de-escalation techniques and expanded community collaboration. Our ultimate goal is diversion from higher levels of care such as hospitalization or jail and creating a better connection with the behavioral health system. This funding will allow us to train more officers, enhance our services to include comprehensive case management for clients with mental health and substance abuse challenges and additional support for veterans. This funding in partnership with other champions of this effort, including the Patrick P. Lee Foundation and Millennium Collaborative Care, will help us take our CIT program to the next level for Erie County."