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The study found that CIT training helped officers empathize more with the mentally ill and increased their knowledge of how to spot a mentally ill individual when responding to calls.
"Models such as CIT empirically show that this collaborative training is effective and provides a better standard of care to consumers, prevents a behavioral health crisis caused by unnecessary escalation, increased safety and proficiency for officers and lessens the intensity of care for psychiatric nurses, which is to the benefit of everyone involved," the study concludes.
The woman in charge of those classes in Orange County is Laura Gailey, Aspire's Director of Acute Services. From her office off Lee Road, Gailey discusses the importance of making sure officers know how to respond to delicate situations on the job.
"People with mental illness don't always understand what they're doing," she says. "They'll be arrested for trespassing. They'll be booked in jail. The other hope for CIT is they'll recognize it as a mental illness, and they can be brought here for treatment. It can be hard to get them to take medication in jail, so a lot of times it can be very symptomatic. They can hear voices in jail; they can be very depressed in jail."
The Aspire campus has nine beds total for the jail to use. Though they may have to return to jail when they're done at the facility, she notes that it doesn't always happen that way. Sometimes the system can be sympathetic, she says.
"A lot of the times, the charges are dropped because of the illness," she says. "It takes that CIT corrections officer to help identify those clients in the jail. These people are truly sick, and they need the stabilization. They don't really need to be in jail."
Some officers who take the CIT class relate stories of what they saw in jail and, retroactively, realize what they were seeing was symptomatic of mental illness.
"The CIT training teaches corrections officers to identify people who are truly sick," Gailey says. "They'll start sharing stories about what they see in jail, and they'll have no idea that was a mental illness."
Officers aren't required to undergo CIT training, though. Some of them do it voluntarily and others, if a supervisor thinks it would be prudent, are "voluntold" to do it – a portmanteau of "volunteer" and "told" that Gailey relays with slight humor.
Not every officer has to go to the training, though, under the current system Orange County uses.
But it's "best for everyone," Gailey says, if more law enforcement and corrections officials learn to recognize the signs of mental health and the best ways to de-escalate situations with those who may be suffering from mental illness.
"They're able to talk the person down," she says. "Or just talking to the person can actually calm them down. For us, it decreases injury."
At Pathways, Kull says the CIT programs are close to a godsend for some mentally ill individuals.
"My Pathways members love CIT officers," he says. "I tell [the officers] 'Your uniform, everything needs to have a CIT pin on it, every one of them.' The mentally ill know to look for that pin – it changes everything. ... I don't want to tell the jail what to do, but if all their officers had CIT training it'd probably be a good thing. Any jail is going to deal with mentally ill people. More than half of the inmates here have it. So all officers should take CIT."
However, none of these opinions matter as long as the state of Florida continues its trend at the very bottom of the country in terms of mental health spending. So the cycle continues: People go off their medications, they get sick and they end up in jail.
"We've bounced between 49th and 50th for mental health funding for years," Gailey says. "People here have wonderful ideas of what to do. But the services don't exist; nobody's willing to pay for them."
Pennisi says the solution will come down to not relying so much on the jail to place people – help will come when more distinction is made between who needs to be in jail and who doesn't.
"The jail is not the place to spend all our money," he says. "If we downsize the number of people we put in jail, that will enable us to provide more resources needed for mental health. We need to get people out of corrections who are not a danger, who have mental health issues.
"We need to separate people we're genuinely afraid of versus those we just don't like for some reason."