Article first published in The Lebanon Times, Summer 2017 issue. Reprinted with permission.
The Lebanon Police Department’s Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) is a community partnership with mental health professionals, hospitals, and other local agencies. Lebanon police officers who participated in the training received 40 hours of specialized instruction in dealing with behavioral health crises due to mental illness. After completing the training, the officers are better prepared to recognize signs of mental illness and safely de-escalate situations with individuals in crisis. Based on a national model started in Memphis, the program defines mental illness as a medical issue rather than a criminal problem and encourages treatment rather than incarceration. This model for community policing brings together law enforcement, mental health providers, hospital emergency departments and individuals with mental illness and their families to improve responses to people in crisis.
Sharing a Best Practice
Lieutenant Matt Isham started the trainings in Lebanon, and later worked with police forces in Hartford, Haverhill, Sullivan County, and the Vermont Forest Service to share the training across the area.
Crisis Intervention Team Depends on Partners
To implement the trainings, the Lebanon Police Department works in coordination with a diverse team of volunteers and professionals from Dartmouth-Hitchcock, West Central Behavioral Health, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the Public Health Council of the Upper Valley, and many more. Marjorie Matthews, a volunteer with NAMI New Hampshire says, “Matt is really the hero of this story. He saw the need, found the national Crisis Intervention Team model, and started the training here in Lebanon.”
The Right Thing to Do
The CIT program is focused on identifying, de-escalating, and diverting situations involving mental health crises. Once these situations are identified, the cases can be sent to the Mental Health Court in Grafton County through Halls of Hope. Lieutenant Matt Isham says, “It was the right thing to do. We have a lot of calls involving mental health issues or in crisis, so the more training we can get, the better for our officers.” Lieutenant Isham is especially grateful for the partnerships and collaborations that they have been able to create through the work with the Crisis Intervention Team. Both private and public entities provided training free of charge, and made a commitment to the intensive training. “It’s a total community and Upper Valley initiative that we started here in Lebanon and with the help of the Public Health Council,” Lieutenant Isham says. “The more officers have the knowledge, the more they will be able to help.”
Donna Stamper is a NAMI New Hampshire volunteer who has participated in six CIT trainings in the Upper Valley. She feels passionately about working with the Lebanon Police Department and other local law enforcement agencies to help address mental health issues in the community. She says that the key is to avoid the cycle of individuals going to jail instead of getting the help they need. Stamper says, “Lives can be saved by these diversion tactics.”