The Salem County Board of Chosen Commissioners requested the Salem County Department of Health and Human Services expedite community mental health education for law enforcement, as they noticed the growing need for community mental health support during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Department responded in partnership with the Salem County Prosecutor’s Office and Salem County Sheriff’s Department.
On March 9, 2021 Salem County hosted its first “Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) New Jersey Center of Excellence Tele-Communicators Salem County Training”. This training was the first of two scheduled trainings, the second training was on March 23, 2021. The goal is to train all Salem County 9-1-1 dispatchers about the CIT program so they will have the tools they need to properly dispatch first responders to callers experiencing a mental health crisis. Dispatchers learned about serious mental illness and how to handle those calls to collect valuable information that will assist first responders in keeping the situation de-escalated while responding to the emergency.
Though this is the first year of dispatcher training, the Salem County Crisis Intervention Team (SC-CIT) program originated in 2017, and dispatcher training is one piece of the program’s goal to bring CIT awareness to the community. Due to the efforts of SC-CIT, which is a committee lead in partnership by Salem County Health and Human Services & the Salem County Prosecutor’s Office, law enforcement officers in each Police Department in Salem County and including State Police have at least one certified CIT officer. The goal of the SC-CIT is to have at least 20% of each police department trained in CIT, and this endeavor takes time. During the graduation ceremony at the end of class Commissioner Ostrum said the course education supports our neighbors in times of need and congratulated dispatchers on taking the time to expand their knowledge and skills.
A CIT training is a 40-hour training, over the course of 5 days. The class consists of both law enforcement officers and mental health case manager or clinicians, and the professionals who attend are the responders who would most likely interface with individuals experiencing mental illness in the community. The situations best suited for CIT response are those in which an individual is experiencing a mental health crisis and needs assistance to get to the proper help. This training offers law enforcement the tools they need to keep the situation de-escalated until mental health professionals arrive. The course content covers a multitude of modules; for example, mental health 101, co-occurring disorders, and developmental disabilities. There are approximately 5-6 modules a day, including site tours to community mental health agencies and County Correctional Facility, as well as presentations from local mental health and substance use providers. In addition to education, attendees form collegial relationship with the professionals they will most likely interface within the field, increasing positive and rapid response to the community member in need. A 40-hour class will be held this summer.
As the SC-CIT program progresses, we hope to spread the message of support to our community members by encouraging them to request a CIT officer if dialing 9-1-1 due to a mental health crisis. This will alert dispatch to utilize CIT tools, and request a CIT officer to respond when possible. Salem County residents experiencing a mental health crisis can also call Psychiatric Emergency Screening Services 24/7/365, through Healthcare Commons, Inc., at 856-299-3001.