Published Date: 2012-07-10
A countywide program that aims to help law enforcement authorities in the field better identify individuals with mental illnesses is proving to be beneficial to the community, according to a Ventura County grand jury report released to the public June 13.
The Ventura County Crisis Intervention Team (CIT)—a collaborative effort between local law enforcement agencies and Ventura County Behavioral Health—was the subject of the recent grand jury investigation.
In the five years before the CIT program was fully implemented in 2002, Ventura County had a total of 19 officer-involved shootings, 12 of which were in response to a person considered mentally ill, the report states.
But in the last decade, the county has seen “big drops” in officer-involved shootings, particularly because officers are better able to identify symptoms of mental illness and respond appropriately, said Scott Walker, CIT program assistant for Ventura County.
“We also saw less officers getting injured,” Walker said. “We’re seeing some really positive outcomes and it’s been a great partnership between all these agencies.”
The Ventura County Sheriff’s Department, the Oxnard Police Department and the Ventura Police Department began developing a crisis intervention program in partnership with VCBH in 2001. A two-year grant was secured the following year to run the CIT program on a countywide basis, the report states.
Today, Simi Valley, Port Hueneme and Santa Paula police departments also participate in the program.
Thousand Oaks, Camarillo, Moorpark, Ojai and Fillmore, which contract with the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department for police services, also have CITtrained officers.
Since 2004, the program has been funded primarily through the Mental Health Services Act of 2004—also known as Proposition 63. The county receives about $100,000 each year to run CIT training academies.
“It has affected us in a very positive way,” Walker said. “We’ve seen a reduction in the number of mentally ill individuals going to jail. Instead of sending them to jail for a crime that is not so serious, or not so violent, we see more of them going to get mental health treatment.”
The grand jury commended county law enforcement agencies for its “innovative policing program” and made only one minor recommendation—to add an indicator on dispatch center computers identifying whether the officer being sent to respond to a call is CIT-trained.
Overall, the grand jury gave Ventura County CIT a favorable report.
Ventura County’s program, which was modeled after a CIT program in Memphis, Tenn., is “exceeding expectations,” the report states.
While the Memphis model recommends that 20 percent of patrol officers in a given jurisdiction become CIT-trained, about 61 percent of patrol officers in Ventura County have completed the 40-hour training program, Walker said.
Port Hueneme and Santa Paula have the highest percentage of trained officers, with 96 percent and 75 percent respectively.
Of the 722 officers in the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department, 258—or 36 percent—are CITtrained, according to the report.
Training priority is given to deputies who regularly work patrol shifts rather than bailiffs or jail deputies.
Capt. Curt Rothschiller of VCSD said the idea behind the program is to teach officers various tactics “other than force” when interacting with individuals with mental illnesses.
These tactics are used to deal with certain nonviolent misdemeanor violations, he said.
“In the past, the only option for the deputy was to take (the person) to jail,” Rothschiller said.
“But now with the training, (deputies) recognize if it’s mental illness-driven, and if it’s a nonviolent misdemeanor, they have the option to take them to a mental health or behavioral health treatment center instead of jail.”
Rothschiller said the sheriff’s department agrees with the grand jury report.
VCSD, as well as the cities of Oxnard, Ventura, Simi Valley, Port Hueneme and Santa Paula, has until mid-September to officially respond to the grand jury.
Ratan Bhavnani, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Ventura County, said the local CIT program is beginning to gain the attention of other areas in the state.
“Our county is one of few in the state that offers the full 40-hour training,” he said. “Other counties are now looking to us to see how they can get this going in their regions.”
Law enforcement agencies from Orange County and the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system have already sent officers to Ventura to undergo training, he said.
The Memphis CIT was developed in 1988 in conjunction with NAMI—a national, non-profit organization dedicated to advocacy and support for Americans with mental illnesses.
NAMI Ventura County was instrumental in bringing the program to local law enforcement agencies, Bhavnani said.
“I think the (grand jury) report is good,” he said. “I’m very pleased with the CIT program here, and NAMI and our families are very pleased with the direction it’s going in also.”
To view the full grand jury report, visit countyofventura.org.