Bergen County CIT Improves Community Connections

The second Bergen County Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training was held at the Bergen County Law & Public Safety Institute in Mahwah from September 12th-16th. The purpose of the training is to strengthen connection, communication and continuity between law enforcement and mental health resources within the community.

CIT-NJ is on a mission to provide adequate information and training on mental health crises to law enforcement, mental health and emergency response professionals. This 5 day 40-hour certification is an intense and interactive program designed to teach emergency teams how to recognize and identify an individual experiencing a mental health crisis, then safely and compassionately approach the situation.

“After 23 years this class made me realize some of the ways to better handle situations and de-escalate situations. This class must be taught to all officers,” commented one law enforcement officer upon completion of his final evaluation of the training.

Throughout the week, a variety of mental health professionals train on the causes and natures of various

mental health challenges, including but not limited to: schizophrenia, psychosis, mood and personality disorders, suicide assessment, substance abuse, and post-traumatic stress disorder. The training covers typical patterns of behavior, common medications, and guidelines for response.

There are also training blocks throughout the week about working with veterans, NAMI, a consumer panel, community resources and developmental disabilities, just to name few.  There are also several trainings facilitated by law enforcement officers about police liability, agitated chaotic events, warrantless entry and Cop2Cop, just to name a few.

In the final evaluation of the course another officer indicated, “this week long training was 100% worth it and helpful.” One of the mental health professionals commented, “this was an excellent training and will definitely help the consumers I work with.”

Although there is a model curriculum that CIT has, it can be altered to meet the needs of the county.  In Bergen County, Amie Del Sordo, Director of 262-HELP and Bergen County CIT Mental Health Coordinator, recognized a training block on the children’s system of care was needed.

“Based on the feedback from the first CIT class, there was a desire from both law enforcement and mental health providers to better explain the children’s system and how to access services,” Del Sordo explained. “With the help of our community partners, I am excited to report this training block was able to be included in our 2nd class.”

CIT is not only a training course, it is a community of partners that are helping to spread awareness and eliminate stigma against behavioral health challenges through education and advocacy. By creating an alliance between mental health and law enforcement professionals, the efforts of the CIT help first responders to better understand the struggle of navigating the mental health system so that they can improve linkage and access to services for those in the community.

“The training blocks are designed to not only be educational, but eye-opening for all in attendance,” Del Sordo commented. “The goal is for mental health providers to get a better understanding of what a police officer experiences when working with someone experiencing a mental health crisis and vice versa.  Based on the feedback from both CIT classes, I can proudly say it worked!”

“I could see and feel the compassion in the room from law enforcement. They truly care about the people they are sworn to protect and serve and want to make a difference in their lives.”  Del Sordo went on to say. She explained that throughout the week several officers approached her to discuss consumers they work with in their municipality and were excited about the different resources, strategies and techniques they could try to use as a result of taking this training.

After only two days of training, mental health and law enforcement officers were collaborating during the breaks and sharing stories with one another about their experiences.  Ed Dobleman, NJ State CIT Director, explained “this is something that usually happens after day three.”

“This is a testament to all of the hard work that Amie put into CIT,” Dobleman continued. “I would like to express my appreciation to her and all of those who stepped up in Bergen County to make CIT happen. Bergen County is one of the many counties who are successfully building relationships and collaborations to help people who are struggling with mental illness.”

The stakeholders for CIT training include police officers, mental health professionals, and advocates. Fourteen counties in New Jersey are actively offering this training within their communities, which can be found online at: http://www.cit-nj.org/

“There appears to be more individuals with mental health disorders who are not receiving treatment, which is creating a heavier burden on law enforcement,” explained Lieutenant Mike Devine, Bergen County Sheriff’s Office and Bergen County CIT Law Enforcement Coordinator. “This training is designed to help to reduce the number of unnecessary incarcerations by assisting individuals with various mental health challenges who would benefit by getting the help that they truly need.”

Del Sordo and Devine would like to thank Acting Bergen County Prosecutor Gurbir Grewal for his continued support of the CIT program.  Prosecutor Grewal is 100% behind the mission of CIT and has agreed to sponsor this training four times a year in Bergen County.

“Because of the Prosecutor’s commitment to support CIT, Bergen County will have successfully trained over 100 law enforcement officers by the end of 2017,”  Del Sordo commented.

The upcoming Bergen County CIT training schedule will be finalized next month. Those who are interested in attending a future training, or have any question about the Bergen County CIT, can contact Amie Del Sordo at 201-262-7108.