Huntsville police officers receive crisis intervention training to help keep the mentally ill out of jail and in treatment

HUNTSVILLE Ala. -- A number of Huntsville police officers will receive specialized training to recognize individuals with mental illness and drug addiction.

The Huntsville Police Department is taking steps to be better prepared for those encounters. Steps they said may prevent unnecessary arrests and help keep officers safe.

"We have drug court, we have all kinds of diversion programs between us and the county that help with people's drug addiction and mental illness. But we need to do that on the forefront," said Lt. Michael Johnson, with the Huntsville Police Department.

To do that, Huntsville police received a grant for Crisis Intervention Team training.

"With this training, it gives more or less us the authority to make those decisions that we could not do before," said Johnson. "Usually, those decisions were left in the hands of the probate judge, or we had to call a mental health officer out. We no longer have to do that."

The program creates additional connections between law enforcement, mental health providers, emergency services and those with mental illness. The trained officers would now go to the hospital with the individual and work with the doctor.

"If I had a family member that had any kind of these conditions that would apply in a situation like this, it would definitely give me peace of mind knowing that they would be treated a particular way," Johnson said.

The goal of the training is to educate officers on mental illness, help reduce the officer's time spent responding to mental health calls, and to help save money. The National Alliance on Mental Illness promotes CIT training and said community-based mental health care can be less expensive than incarceration.

"Well, it really benefits us. It lightens the load on the jail a little bit because as you know a lot of people that go through the criminal justice system have mental health and drug addiction problems," Johnson said.

Johnson added the training will allow the police department to act with immediacy, instead of having to rely on other organizations. There are CIT programs in over 2,700 communities nationwide.