Some members of local law enforcement will soon be better equipped to interact with individuals struggling with mental illness as they partner with Park Center to develop the new Crisis Intervention Team (CIT).
The new program in Adams County is modeled after the CIT program in Fort Wayne, which was instituted after a stand-off altercation with a mentally ill man, who was subsequently killed by police.
"What they've noticed in Fort Wayne," said Tonya Eiden of ParkCenter, "it's been in existence for about 10 years, the community is really happy with CIT officers, and their number of arrests for mentally ill people has significantly declined."
It's not uncommon for someone suffering a mental illness to be taken to jail after police are called, according to Eiden. However, she points out that this isn't always necessary and oftentimes a mentally ill person may be doing something disruptive, but not necessarily criminal.
"Then you get people wrapped up in the criminal justice system, the courts, the prosecutor and everybody else, who are saying 'We really don't need to prosecute. This isn't necessarily a crime, but there's a problem with this behavior that can't continue,'" said Eiden.
The goal of the CIT program is to train officers and others who work with the community, such as prosecutors, community correction and probation people, to recognize the signs of mental illness and possibly divert an individual to the hospital for treatment rather than jail.
CIT officers will attempt to intervene and determine whether an individual is a danger to themselves or others and have signs of mental illness, said Eiden.
"So CIT just isn't going to pick up anybody with a mental illness. They have to be a danger to themselves or others and show signs of mental illness for CIT to get involved."
Once a CIT officer determines an individual needs hospitalization rather than jail, an Immediate Detention Order (IDO) is issued and the individual is taken to the hospital for a 24-hour period to be evaluated. Then it is up to hospital personnel to determine whether there is an ongoing threat and what course of treatment is needed.
Officers will receive 40 hours of training, spread over a five-week period, from professional mental health workers and CIT officers from the Fort Wayne Police Department.
Working in tandem with the CIT program, Eiden said Park Center has recently implemented the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) program in Decatur.
NAMI Connection is a free support group for people with mental illness and for those who have a loved one with a mental illness.
The group meets at 7 p.m. the second Thursday of each month at Park Center, 809 High St., in Decatur.
Eiden said NAMI is in need of people to help support NAMI as facilitators and planners, as well as those who are in need of help.
For more information, call (260) 724-9669, ext. 3020.