According to the Lynchburg
Police Department, as many as 20-percent of people behind bars across the
country have some sort of a serious mental illness. Over the past two years the
Lynchburg Police Department has been getting a federally funded grant to keep
people out of prison by getting them the help they need.
In the first year, the
police department received about $70,000 from the grant. This year, the grant
provided them with just over $69,000. By the end of the four years, the idea of
the program is to become self-sufficient.
Lynchburg Police go
on about 75,000 calls a year. Patrol supervisor Travis Blodgett estimates one
in ten calls are for mental health issues. Blodgett is one of the people behind
the new crisis intervention team (CIT).
"You might actually
be able to stop the catastrophe you might be able to intervene with somebody
and get them the help they need before something horrible happens" said
He says there weren't many options previously:
-charge and arrest the person
-de-escalate the situation
-an emergency custody order that can take officers off the street for hours and turn into a more permanent detention.
By training about
20-percent of the force and working with community members like Centra Health, they've
cut the number of people who need more evaluations in half.
"It's making our job
easier. We're not having the same repeat customers if you will. We're able to
intervene more often instead of the same calls over and over again. What were
able to do is get these folks who are dealing with mental health crisis get
them the help they need" said Blodgett.
"I see an increased
interest on the part of law enforcement agencies to have their officers trained
and I think that's very, very important" said Diane Kelly, the executive
director for Mental Health America of the Roanoke Valley.
Kelly trains Roanoke
area agencies in the CIT program and sees the difference it makes. The NRV also
has a CIT program.
"They know what will
make the situation worse, but they also know what will make it better and
they're able to use those skills as they work with the public" said Kelly.
"More people were
able to help the more success we are going to have, that's our hope" said Blodgett.
Keeping officers on the street and getting people help.