Agencies Form Mental Health Partnership

Lauderdale County, Miss. Mental health professionals and law enforcement are now teaming up to help people struggling with mental health conditions like never before.

The Central Mississippi Residential Center has formed a partnership with the Sheriff's Department to promote the safety of our community. Their program is called the Crisis Intervention Team. Sheriff Billy Sollie says it all started when he was personally touched by an individual dealing with a mental health crisis 18 years ago.

"A local father in the Lauderdale County area came to me in tears," Sheriff Sollie tells us. "He had a family member that continued to go in and out of crisis issues, and he was concerned that all law enforcement had available was to respond and incarcerate a person who needed care."

He says from that point on, they knew they had to do more. The Mississippi legislature created a law that allows officers to be specially trained. That way they can evaluate a situation to determine whether it is a mental health situation. If so, they can then better handle what's happening and utilize the services of mental health specialists on a short term basis rather than simply incarcerating them, which is what led to the Crisis Intervention Team.

"The purpose of that crisis center is to provide treatment for individuals who are in crisis," says CMRC's executive director Debbie Ferguson. "In the situation with the CIT team, the officers bring the individuals in. Our goal is to get the officers in and out as quickly as possible so they can spend their time on the street versus in the hospital."

The program began in 2012. Over a 40-hour training period, experts come in to provide guidance to the officers for specific situations.

"They actually have to go out and do some role playing as well as talk with individuals who are in a crisis and get their feedback," Sollie says.

They hope through participation in the CIT program, they'll be able to make a difference in the life of someone suffering from mental illness so that in the future, the police won't have to just repeatedly lock an individual up for the same crime.

The Sheriff's Department and mental health specialists are working together now to identify behavioral patterns to truly help those people and keep our community safe.