Webinar presenter Jason Winsky answered a number of your questions after his presentation, Beyond CIT: Establishing Mental Health Support Teams. Here are just a few of his responses.
Audience Question: When did your program start?
Jason Winsky: Our help support team here in Tucson Police department started in 2014.
Audience Question: Could you describe the site visit program? What does that entail? What does it include? I think you were telling us that it was a two-day or three-day something like that, could you describe that again please?
Jason Winsky: Yes, there is an organization called the Council State Governments and they are working collaboration with the Bureau of Justice Assistance. I think that is where the funding comes from and they established what’s called the learning type program, and the learning type programs are places – counties, cities, jurisdiction around the country that they go to a rigorous application or testing process to become a learning site. But what it revolves around is the collaboration between the criminal justice system, law enforcement, and the treatment community and community resources. So, the whole drive of the program is areas around the country that are really collaborating around the intersection of criminal justice and in these conditions that I just described. So, the real kind of thrust is jail diversion, how to divert people into treatment and how law enforcement collaborates with the community to do that. So, if you send me an email I will direct you to where the application is and what happens is that you apply, and you say what kind of needs are in your community where you are and like I said there are eleven learning sites around the country – Los Angeles, LAPD is one as well, and so what the CSG will do is they will take what your needs are and look around the country and say, “Oh Tucson has a lot of the stuff that you are looking for, and so they will match you up with whatever learning site will fit your needs. We’ll fund the travel here so the hotel, the airfare, and it can last really anywhere from 2 to 4 days. When you come to Tucson, you’ll get a tour of our consolidated court systems, you’ll get a tour of our crisis response center, you can ride along with our mental health team at the police department. We really tailor the visit to what it is that you want to learn about it, that you want to see, so that is our program for that.
Audience Question: How long does it take to train an officer to become a part of the CIT and what does that training include?
Jason Winsky: It is a pretty rigorous training program, so it takes about six months of training for an officer to join my team on top of all the regular training they attend. So like I mentioned, we are doing the CIT mental health first aid, everyone on my team is also a CIT instructor and a mental health first aid instructor, so they undergo instructor certification which I think has a lot of value as well. We teach courses to our officers, our mental health officers here and personality disorders, Alzheimer’s, dementia, PTSD, interactions with veterans any kind of specialty problem that you can think of essentially, we train our mental health officers in. So it takes quite a while to be trained and join this team.
Audience Question: What do you look for in officers when you select them to be part of the CIT team? Like, what kind of characteristics, attributes, experience, what do you look for?
Jason Winsky: So, in the law enforcement world, we call this a special assignment which means that it is an officer that has dedicated some talent and some job competency kind of what you described as like the above average level. We do one of the most rigorous hiring process for my team, really that exist, I would say in our department. So, we do have a written memorandum which is pretty standard but we also do an oral board interview for which is not standard for most special assignments in law enforcement. We do a real deep dive in an officer’s or a deputy’s history, we want to look for customer service complaints like rudeness complaints essentially. If you essentially ever had a rudeness complaint on our department, it is going to be really hard to get on our team here. The number one thing we look for in hiring a mental health officer to work on this team is patience and compassion for working with this population, you have a lot to work on this population to be on our team here. And the last thing that I will say, we never designed it this way but just by the way the process work, nearly everyone that works on our team here has a family member or a direct connection to someone suffering from mental health or some substance use disorder condition. So the people on my team have, you know, lived the experience in this area.
Audience Question: Our major challenge is finding licensed mental health professionals who can pass our civilian background check, there are mental health center employees but they are embedded in the police departments, so they have to pass. So far they are getting one out of five passing. What background level are you using? What’s your experience with this?
Jason Winsky: We have to take a really serious look here on Tucson, at what the background standards were. We want correspondence, we want team responders that have experience in this area. Maybe even lived experience in this area. So I have to fall back on leadership buy-in to answer that question because looking across the nation at what law enforcement agencies are doing, even hiring commissioned officers, sometimes the standards can be so high that you’re missing quality candidates. You’re missing quality people that can be really an asset to your team. So, here in Tucson, we did, we relaxed the standards to some degree, number one. The second thing that our chief allowed us to do here is on an individual case by case basis. Allow that candidate to kind of explain their historical background and provide some context on how they answer some of the questions on the background investigation but really I would say that unless your leadership allow s you to somewhat relaxed the standard of what your allowed to work on your team, you’re going to miss qualified candidates for sure.
Audience Question: About the support of leadership being so important, talk more about that. Talk more about getting your leadership buy-in both from your chief as well as from your sheriff and what that process looks like, were they always bought-in or did you have to kind of prove the case, how does that work?
Jason Winsky: When you’re interacting with leadership, you have to meet them where they’re at. So, in some cases in law enforcement you’re looking at elected official like a county sheriff, I think in that perspective, we have to be honest about that, having some of this programs can be even politically advantageous in establishing a sheriff’s department relationship with the community. Other places might have an appointed chief of police, other places might be even dealing with a county administrator or city manager, we strongly believe when you look at 911 call diversion and jail diversion, those two things in particular, you can demonstrate a cost savings and when you can demonstrate a cost savings, that might be what gets your leadership buy-in. So, what I would say to answer that is, some leaders will buy-in at this so classically and your very lucky if you have one of those like we do here where they just believe it is the right thing to do. Other law enforcement leader might be looking at improving their community relationship in so that, that’s where they’ll get their buy-ins and others you just might need to demonstrate the cost savings or the risk management side of this and that might be where we get the buy-in.
Audience Question: A follow up to that is, do you ever have people who ever just say what does this got to do with real policing and I’m putting quotes around that real policing there. How do you respond to those folks?
Jason Winsky: We get that question all the time and that is pretty much my favorite line, I’ve been on the job for 15 years out here in Tucson. I remember when I was in the academy, what was the phrase that police officers always use? “Hey, we are not a taxi service,” right? The problem is we are though, we are all of those things, we’re social workers, we’re taxi drivers, we’re parenting guardians, and quite frankly there’s nothing we can do to stop the tide of that, we might as well embrace it and find creative solutions. We are very diverse and in a pretty healthy like medium-size population city, here in Tucson. Two out of five of our 911 calls here and 6 out of 10 people sitting in our jail here fit this population. So, who wouldn’t want to train for that, who wouldn’t want to have a risk management program for that, who wouldn’t want to reduce the cost associated with that. So, really when I get that question, I think that it’s a great question but its two out of five calls were going to and there’s no reason to believe that any other jurisdiction in the country would be different than Tucson. So, what I would say is we’re doing this work already, there is no end in sight of doing this work, so we might as well figure out how to do it well.
Audience Question: You talked about data gathering to build this program and you literally just talk about the 911 and the jail diversions, what data should folks start looking at in order to start building the case for their leadership that they really need this program, what’s the numbers can they immediately start gathering?
Jason Winsky: Well again, I would just go back to, in the interest that keeping this to a national audience, almost any place that is listening to this webinar right now, you probably operate a 911 system and you probably operate a jail somewhere in your system or if you don’t operate a jail, you pay rent at your jail, right? If you don’t operate it, you have to pay rent for it. Those are the two best places I think to start mining this data to show where you can drive down cost, drive down 911 calls for service, those two are really good places to start. The other place you can look at is involving, during emergency rooms so your hospitals, your level one trauma centers, on the fire side that can be very effective at showing logistics cost as well. And then lastly, I think a great place to start building towards this is if you’re in an area that does not have hardly any of the stuff that I mentioned, imagine if your police department or your sheriffs’ department kind of hosted a community forum, right? We are looking at getting into this area and so traditionally, what law enforcement always does is we wait for someone else to host something, some community forum or whatever and what we do is just like send the representative, and we just kind of sit down and we don’t say anything, and we just listen to whatever the analysis they’re saying and then we go back and report to our department whatever they are saying, you know, like the needs of the community are. Law enforcement could step forward and host a round table or community forum and that the community tell the law enforcement what the needs are, that can be very compelling too.
Audience Question: Do you do anything for the juveniles who are in need of for the same types of services or the same type of help or is your program solely focus on adults or how do you address the kids in need as well?
Jason Winsky: This is a tough question that is everyone is facing across the country, the juvenile kids are, by far the hardest one to work. We do have juveniles on our mental health support team caseload. We work really with the whole family in those cases, those we divert to treatment almost exclusively except in the case of a violent felony or something like that. Resources are really tough for juvenile, especially when we talk about in-patient resources. So, that we try to do, on our team, is we work really a lot on our correspondence with the parent or guardians of the juvenile to educate them about on the resources that are available in our community.