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Bucks County CIT Background
In 2006, as part of a larger effort to address jail overcrowding and reduce the rate of incarceration of individuals with behavioral health challenges, the Bucks County Commissioners charged the County’s Behavioral Health staff with leading an effort to develop a more effective response to individuals in crisis whose behaviors bring them in contact with police officers. Police officers throughout the County had long complained of being compelled to arrest and incarcerate individuals they believed would be better served in a treatment setting. In 2007, County staff recommended, and the Commissioners approved, the use of HealthChoices Reinvestment funds to enhance the County sponsored crisis service operated by Lenape Valley Foundation at Lower Bucks Hospital. Ultimately, the County opted to include, as recommended by NAMI Bucks County, CIT as a component of the County’s larger crisis improvement effort.
In 2008, with the support and encouragement of the Bucks County Commissioners, Bucks County, in collaboration with members of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI Bucks County, PA) and other stakeholders, created a Task Force and embarked on the implementation of a Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) model for law enforcement departments. Starting with four municipalities in Lower Bucks County, (Bensalem Township, Northampton Township, Bristol Borough, and Bristol Township) 120 individuals representing law enforcement management and the patrol division were provided an introductory six hour training regarding the CIT model and its benefits to the community. Based on the Memphis model, a weeklong training will be conducted in September 2009 for patrol officers from these four initial police departments leading to certification as a CIT Officer. In the future, it is the intent of the Task Force to make these trainings available to all law enforcement departments throughout Bucks County.
The Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) is an innovative first-responder model of police-based crisis intervention with community, behavioral healthcare, and advocacy partnerships. The CIT model was first developed in Memphis (CIT Center) some twenty years ago and has spread throughout the country.
CIT is a jail diversion program designed to improve the outcomes of police interactions with individuals whose behavior is influenced by mental illness, substance use, developmental or intellectual disibilities, and related conditions. Officers learn to recognize psychiatric distress and other conditions and how to de-escalate a crisis — avoiding officer injuries, consumer deaths and tragedy for the community. In addition, CIT officers learn how to link people with appropriate treatment, which has a positive impact on fostering recovery and reducing recidivism.
Research has proven that CIT training reduces arrests, the use of restraint, citizen and police officer injuries, hospitalization, and vastly improves the safety and satisfaction of all involved.
The mission of the Bucks County CIT Task Force
To promote collaboration between Bucks County Law Enforcement, Behavioral Health Organizations, Behavioral Health Advocates, and County Government, and to provide a forum for effective problem solving. To serve as a vehicle for consumer, family member and community input into the Bucks County CIT training process. To develop a CIT training program that will be incorporated into the programs of every Bucks County Law Enforcement agency.
The goals of the CIT program
The overall goal of the CIT training program is to treat mental illness as a disease, not a crime.
- decreased number of injuries to the officers
- decreased use of force
- improved use of alternatives to arrest and jail
- decreased time officers spend in the crisis unit (involuntary commitments)
- reduced myths and stigma of mental illness among law enforcement
- improved relationships for officers and community
Behavioral Health System:
- extended crisis response systems
- increased opportunity for earlier intervention
- improved treatment outcomes
- decreased number of injuries to the consumer
- better relationships between consumers and law enforcement officers
- removed stigma of unnecessary incarceration in local jails
- improved access to treatment
- increased chance that the consumer will receive continuous care
NAMI of PA, Bucks County congratulates all of the graduates!
In Memory of Charles (Charlie) Bechtel
Charles A. Bechtel (known with affection as “Charlie”), an elegant and dynamic man, played a vital role in the Bucks County Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Task Force, also having served on NAMI Bucks County’s Board of Directors. Mr. Bechtel passed away on August 18, 2017. He was 77. To honor his memory and achievements, Bucks County CIT bestowed the first Charlie Bechtel award to Thomas Augustin, presented by Julie Harbison.
Mr. Augustin is a graduate of Bucks County’s first CIT training, a champion of the program, and Lower Makefield Township Police Department Corporal. Julie Harbison, a Certified Peer Specialist at Lenape Valley Foundation, was selected to present Tom with the award because, as he states, meeting her and participating in CIT changed the way he viewed people living with mental health conditions. He also says that if he had taken the training earlier in his career, it may have changed his approach to law enforcement long ago. Please watch the video below to see the beginning of the presentation, delivered by Sharon Curran, Chief Financial Officer of Lenape Valley Foundation.