By Brian Livingston / email@example.com
The Meridian Star
All the pieces of the puzzle are now in place after four years of planning, training and implementation.
Lauderdale County Sheriff's Department Chief Dep. Ward Calhoun said Friday that on Thursday, county officials met with officials with the Central Mississippi Residential Center in Newton to finalize plans for that facility to be the receiving unit for mentally disturbed individuals local law enforcement come in contact with during their duties.
"We are at a point now where we have a place to take these individuals who need help with their conditions and not being put in jail," said Calhoun. "Jail is not where the majority of these people need to be but until now that is where they were placed because there was no program in action to address this issue."
For four years officials with the LCSD, Meridian Police Department and Weems Community Mental Health Center in Meridian have been laboring over qualification requirements, writing and securing grant funding, and then training the men and women in law enforcement to this new system of Crisis Intervention Teams (CIT). CIT training was funded by a U. S. Department of Justice Criminal Justice Mental Health Collaboration Grant to the LCSD. The MPD and LCSD have partnered with Weems Community Mental Health Center in Meridian in providing the necessary training curriculum for the officers. So far, two classes of officers from both the LCSD and MPD have graduated the training program.
"The state is paying attention to what is going on here," said Sollie. "There is no reason to 'stuff em and cuff em' anymore. Now we have the training to address this issue."
And now the officers have a place to take the individuals with mental health issues.
"When we come across someone who has a broken leg we call the ambulance and they take them to be treated at the hospital," said Calhoun. "But we didn't have any place to take someone who was having a mental issue. Not until now."
Calhoun said the CMRC in Newton is equipped with a Crisis Stabilization Unit. This unit is fully certified with the personnel and equipment to handle most mental health issues. Those who are picked up by the LCSD and MPD and who are deemed as having a mental health issue will be transported to the Newton facility for evaluation.
Calhoun said this program serves two very important services. One, it gets the immediate help of anyone suffering from a mental health issue and two, it takes the load off the court system in dealing with these individuals.
In July 2010, a law was passed in the state to give law enforcement officers the power to detain, but not to necessarily arrest, anyone who is considered suffering from a mental issue. By doing this, officers can now take those people to a certified facility so the individual can receive the kind of help they actually need.
The CIT programs now number more than 2,500 in more than 45 states and several foreign countries, including Sweden and Australia. Calhoun said this is the first CIT program in the state in full operation.