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NAMI Bucks County Forms New Crisis Intervention Team

Contributor: Agnes McFarlane

After three years of advocacy on the part of members of NAMI Pa. Bucks County, the first class of 21 certified CIT trained officers graduated in September 2009.

This represented the fulfillment of a dream of those of us who saw the need for the training and were always dismayed to read in the paper of interactions gone wrong. I wasn’t convinced that we could make it happen. We are just ordinary folks, but that dream kept us going.

We continuously visited and spoke with police depts. giving them info on CIT supplied by Maj (ret.) Sam Cochran. At first no department felt that they could be "the one" that would step up. We heard the concern that with 53 police depts. in the county, it would be very difficult to coordinate the training. Every time we hit a bump in the road, we turned to the experts for help. Maj Sam Cochran, Joe Mucenski, of CIT International, Wendy Stewart of Cambria County, Pa., NAMI, Chief Tom Garrity, Camden County, N.J. CIT and many others too numerous to mention spent hours on the phone and e-mails giving advice they had won by experience. We visited Johnstown, Pa., and Collingswood, N.J., and found out that CIT people are generous to a fault with their time and any help they can give to get our program up and running. Our mantra became "there’s no need to reinvent the wheel."

We had to convince our county MH dept that this was a win-win program, and once done, they threw themselves behind the project wholeheartedly, investing dollars in streamlining crisis services. A task force was formed which includes county MH reps, police officers, MH treatment agencies, addiction experts and NAMI members.

In July 2008, eight members of the Task Force traveled to Memphis to study the CIT concept with the originators and developers of the Memphis Model of CIT Training. We then attended the National CIT Convention in November 2008. We felt like sponges, soaking up information from everyone there. We set a goal of June 2009 for our first training, then revised it to September. Crisis services were expanded and a mobile crisis unit was developed.

We convened meetings of stakeholders and garnered more support from agencies and depts. throughout the county. I thought it would be difficult to set up the curriculum but, meeting weekly, we adopted the Memphis program and then fine-tuned it to the needs of our community. We found it easy to recruit presenters who donated their time during the week-long training.

One additional component of the Bucks CIT program is the preliminary training offered. Police Chiefs and upper level administrators are offered a three-and-one-half-hour course covering the methods and objectives of CIT Training. In addition, patrol officers attend a six-hour preliminary introduction to mental illness and CIT training. Although these introductory sessions are not considered to be the full training course, they lay an important groundwork for success of the 40-hour CIT Training Program. All training has received good to excellent ratings from the officers. Stories are starting to come in of the newly certified officers handling situations differently now that they had the new perspective.

I received a lot of encouragement from fellow NAMI advocates and I have to be honest: it was a roller-coaster ride at times. I would just say to anyone interested in starting a CIT, "never give up." Just keep contacting people and presenting the logic of using CIT as an additional tool for police officers. They can’t turn you down with NAMI on your side.