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NAMI Celebrates National Mental Health Month

This is National Mental Health Month. One of the region’s leading organizations to help those suffering from mental illness and fighting the stigma of mental illness is NAMI, or National Alliance on Mental Illness.

One of their most interesting national programs is called CIT (Crisis Intervention Team). The program is being introduced on Long Island for the first time through the Hempstead Police Department and NAMI Queens/Nassau.

For a long time, police have had difficulty in dealing with persons with apparent mental disease who are still walking the streets freely but causing fear among observers and the police officers who are supposed to handle these situations.

Unfortunately, until now, there have been few training programs beyond a basic introduction to the problem of dealing with the mentally ill for police officers who have to subdue and arrest these afflicted individuals who talk to people who aren’t there and/or just themselves, those who threaten innocent bystanders and observers, and other problems in the streets.

To fill the gap in appropriate training programs for the police, NAMI is working with the Hempstead Village Police Department in developing the CIT program in their district. It is based on an existing and pioneering program in Memphis, Tenn.

Funding for this program comes from a $100,000 grant from the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Shelter Rock. It will be used to train the Hempstead Village Police in safe and appropriate procedures that will reduce negative interactions between law enforcement and those with mental illness.

CITs are formed through the collaboration of mental health providers, mobile crisis teams, law enforcement agencies, family members of individuals with mental illness, and the individuals themselves. This task force develops plans to address systems issues, including the best way to transfer someone from law enforcement custody to mental health treatment; and crisis intervention situations, including teaching law enforcement officers how to recognize and de-escalate a psychiatric crisis to prevent injury or death.

Six members of the task force participated in a two-day training session in Memphis, Tennessee. They were developing the curriculum held in early June for training 20 Hempstead Village police officers. NAMI Queens/Nassau will share the results of this project with other local police departments that have expressed interest in being trained in the CIT model.

“One of the main reasons for starting this program is to promote more education and training,” said Lt. Pat Cooke, commander, Office of the Training Bureau of the Hempstead Police Department.

“One of the real benefits of CIT for the Hempstead police has been the opportunity to develop relationships with local mental health agencies and become knowledgeable about the services they provide. They are now much more aware of the options available to them other than taking someone to the emergency room,” stated Janet Susin, president of NAMI Queens/Nassau.

Said John Shorter, the NAMI Queens/ Nassau CIT coordinator, “Just being able to pick up a phone and know the person on the other end of the line can make a big difference in the disposition of a case.”

Ms. Susin added that CIT programs have consistently shown to reduce officer injuries, SWAT team emergencies, and the amount of time officers spend on the disposition of mental disturbance calls. They found significant reductions in Memphis and Albuquerque where the CIT program is already in use.

For more information, readers can call NAMI Queens/Nassau at (516) 326-0797 or (718) 347-7284. Their useful website is: www.namiqn.org.