BJA’s VALOR Initiative Update

All four of the BJA VALOR Initiative’s Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) sites [Huntsville, Alabama; Honolulu, Hawaii; St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana, and Alamogordo, New Mexico] have completed their 40-hour trainings, with a total of 145 graduates. In addition, PRA has wrapped up the corresponding Train-the-Trainer workshops, so the four sites can continue to train law enforcement and behavioral health agencies in the practice and culture of CIT. We have reinvigorated collaborative partnerships in these areas with agencies that share in the responsibility of responding to, caring for, and protecting their communities. Now we are in our evaluation phase, and upon preliminary data, the training has been working, both for patrol officers and for the local behavioral health system.

At the beginning of the grant, PRA brought together law enforcement, behavioral health, leaders in the community, advocates, and people with lived experience for strategic planning site visits in the summer of 2018. We asked these stakeholders to identify the resources and gaps in their communities and began discussing strategies for closing the gaps. We got to see these communities in a new light, and I believe the participants may have seen their homes in a new light as well. More importantly, they see how they can make a more significant impact in their communities and are doing their due diligence to enact those changes.

Following the strategic planning site visits, we began scheduling the first 40-hour CIT training. In December 2018, our first CIT training was underway in St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana. There, we had 24 graduates from the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office, and 1 graduate from a nearby law enforcement agency, the French Settlement Police Department. In many ways, the additional officer from French Settlement Police Department was the beginning of interagency collaboration to spread the culture of CIT throughout eastern Louisiana more broadly. Since their training, there have been a significant number of discussions on training other departments and agencies in and around St. Tammany Parish.

A month after our first successful training in Louisiana, we set off to Honolulu, Hawaii for 2 weeks. A total of 45 graduates from several agencies, primarily the Honolulu Police Department, as well as the Tripler Army Medical Center, the Hawaii Department of Health, and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) furthered interagency collaboration that is an essential component of CIT. Here, more representatives from behavioral health and advocacy organizations helped to spearhead cross-system training for all three fields. Law enforcement was educated in their local behavioral health agencies and the services they provide, and NAMI was able to introduce officers to people with lived experience in recovery through a panel of NAMI-affiliated speakers and site visits at local behavioral health facilities.

Alamogordo, New Mexico had the most comprehensive array of organizations in its 40-hour CIT training, with a majority of graduates from the Alamogordo Police Department, several from the Air Force base, as well as graduates from local behavioral health agencies, officers from Otero County Sheriff’s Office, the Tularosa Police Department, and Border Patrol. In total, 20 participants graduated in Alamogordo, New Mexico. In the short time since their training in January 2019, Alamogordo may be the site that’s experienced the most change. Changes in daily practices and policies have begun to shape a new era in the small town near the Rio Grande. Officers proactively call behavioral health staff they met at the training to request information about the most appropriate disposition for a person they have responded to in crisis. Sometimes the best disposition has been detention, and other times it has been bringing the person to the clinic or emergency department. Even patients at Gerald Champion Regional Medical Center have commented on the difference in response from CIT-trained officers.

We saw our most significant number of graduates in Huntsville, Alabama, after another 2 weeks of training. Between the February and March trainings, we saw 55 graduates receive their certificates! Again, we saw interagency training with graduates mostly from the Huntsville Police Department, but also many from the Madison Police Department and Madison County Sheriff’s Office. Shortly after the second week of training, we headed back to Alabama to train a cadre of graduates in becoming CIT trainers for their department and others locally through a Train-the-Trainer workshop. Since the Train-the-Trainer event, Huntsville is eager to schedule more training for their department and others in the area that have expressed interest.

In the brief time since all of the Train-the-Trainer workshops have ended, each site has been working diligently to schedule new trainings, get the word out on CIT Teams throughout their broader communities and networks, and actively adjusting their day-to-day practices and policies. While we are only at the beginning of our evaluation phase, it is becoming clear that this training program and general culture of CIT will make a big difference in these communities, both in terms of how to respond to a person in crisis and in determining the best possible disposition in order to keep law enforcement officers and the community at large safe.

Criminal justice, Crisis intervention, Diversion    

The views expressed by the blog post author are their own and do not necessarily represent the official views of Policy Research Associates, Inc.

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