Police from six municipalities and the county now have specialized training to de-escalate encounters between law enforcement and community members challenged by mental illness.
The Delaware County Office of Behavioral Health conducted an intensive, four-day training program earlier this month for local police officers who will be part of a Crisis Intervention Team (CIT), a nationally recognized program for law enforcement officers to de-escalate a psychiatric crisis.
CIT training is designed to give police officers the skills needed to effectively and humanely respond to public safety situations involving persons in psychiatric crisis.
The training was delivered by mental health professionals, CIT law enforcement instructors and other experts in the field.
On June 7, 18 officers graduated from the CIT training and are now certified as the first members of the Delaware County CIT program.
The officers and their police departments are: David Gasiorowski, Aston Township Police Department; Timothy Habich, Brookhaven; Nicholas Spayd, Delaware County Park Police; Robert Frazier, Ridley Park; George Faulkner, Sharon Hill; Nicholas Paytas, Andrew Graff, Andrew McKinney and Patrick McKenna, all Springfield; Thomas Thompson, Frank Guille, James Hoback, Eric Colella, Robert Wheatley, Kelly Seace, Joseph G. Mazzone, Donald Peterson and Amanda Pombo, all of Upper Darby.
Police are often called upon to respond to public safety situations involving people in psychiatric crisis. The situations have the potential to be dangerous to all who are involved, including the person in crisis, family members and the police.
“CIT Training provides officers with the tools to interact effectively and humanely with people who have mental illness,” said Delaware County District Attorney Jack Whelan.
“These situations can be high-risk and sometimes escalate into an incident that requires force. With CIT training, we hope to minimize the risk to the person in crisis and the responding officer, and to lessen the need for the use of force.”
The goal of the program is to integrate police-based crisis response, behavioral health intervention services and community-based services.
A Delaware County CIT steering committee was formed in 2011 to develop the initiative, based on a successful national model.
Members of the steering committee include William Chambers, deputy administrator for the County Office of Behavioral Health, Upper Darby Police Captain David Madonna, Springfield Police Officer Joseph O’Berg, and representatives from Crozer Keystone Health System, Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital, Holcomb Behavioral Health, Horizon House, the Mental Health Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania, Widener University, Forensic System Solutions and the Family Training and Advocacy Center.
Goals include the safe response to a crisis that reduces violence and injury, reducing the number of times a person with a behavioral health disorder has contact with the police, connecting individuals with services, and promoting system wide communication.
Chambers said there are 10,000 people receiving behavioral health services in Delaware County. He pointed out that statewide, a large number of prisoners have mental illness. Out of 1,900 inmates at Delaware County Prison, 95 have a serious mental illness.
“The best way to keep people with mental health challenges out of prison is to connect them to treatment programs, housing, and supportive services,” Chambers said. Police nationwide have complained that people who have mental illness would be better served in treatment facilities instead of being arrested and incarcerated.
CIT training classes focused on engaging the homeless, veteran’s issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder, cultural issues, risk to officers, family and consumer perspectives.
County Council Chairman Tom McGarrigle and Councilman John McBlain thanked the graduates as they received their CIT certificates on Thursday.
“It is a sad fact that we have residents who suffer from mental illness and drug abuse, and they often don’t have the resources or ability to get the help they need,” Chairman McGarrigle said. “Our goal is for the Crisis Intervention Team to have the tools they need to de-escalate a situation safely and to refer the person to services that might help them.”
“The CIT approach helps everyone collaborate, to work with our community partners, and to coordinate our efforts. So on behalf of County Council, I sincerely thank you all for working toward a better outcome for these situations, these individuals and their families.”