Crisis Intervention Team Making A Difference In Community

By Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw

We live, unfortunately, in a time when many people with mental illness don’t have enough places to turn to for help. That’s why as many as 400 to 600 people with psychological disorders end up in our county jails on any given day.

The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) is working to change this. It’s part of a bigger community effort in Palm Beach County to provide expanded safety, understanding and service to the mentally ill and their families.

Our CIT program works by connecting law enforcement, mental health professionals and family members. Together, they work to stabilize mentally ill individuals during police call-outs and other emergencies and offer treatment alternatives, if appropriate, instead of sending the individuals to our jails. The goal is to prevent tragic situations and find solutions that benefit everyone involved.

A major part of our team’s responsibility is to train other deputies to understand the challenges facing people with mental illness and how best to respond and offer assistance to them. To date, they have trained close to 1,200 deputies and other law enforcement. These deputies maintain a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week, coverage across the county.

The training encourages police to offer a more humane and calm approach to handling these individuals. As a result, deputies learn to reduce the likelihood of physical confrontations and improve the chances of finding better care for the individuals. Similar training also helps my deputies cope with their own crises and handle the physical and mental challenges of police work.

Our CIT started about six years ago as a response, in part, to an increase in illegal drug use, alcohol abuse and domestic violence incidents. We saw many people becoming homeless and violent, which increased the chances of involvement with police. We also found traditional law enforcement methods, as well as our own lack of sensitively, toward people with psychological disorders caused fear, frustration and mistrust in the community.

Our program corrected this. By starting the training and changing our response, new avenues were immediately created for the development of community partnerships and the collaboration of working together to better help a population that deserves special care, treatment and service.

Today, one in four American families has a relative who has a mental illness, such as major depression and bipolar disorder. Yet in our community, there are only about 200 public beds to treat people with mental illness.

Despite the tragic shootings in Colorado, Connecticut and other places, the vast majority of people with mental illness are not violent. In fact, inaccurate beliefs about mental illness and violence have led to stigma and discrimination.

Our CIT participants will continue confronting these challenges. There’s no doubt in my mind that their training, advocacy and community partnerships have improved, transformed and saved the lives of countless individuals.