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More CIT training for police to interact with those in mental health crisis

WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

More area police officers will be trained on how to handle individuals suffering from a mental health or drug abuse crisis. Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz and Western New York Congressman Brian Higgins announced $1.65-million federal grant Monday, appearing at the City of Tonawanda Police Department. WBFO's senior reporter Eileen Buckley says it's a five year grant to expand Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) for law enforcement.   

"Our goal - our chief's goal - is to get every officer in the city of Tonawanda CIT trained," declared Captain Fredrick Foels, City of Tonawanda Police.

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
Captain Fredrick Foels, City of Tonawanda Police.

Captain Foels said so far 20 of their 30-officers have received CIT training, learning how to recognize and interact with some suffering with a mental illness or experiencing a drug abuse situation.

“They get to learn a different aspect of when someone is in crisis – how to talk to that person – it was related to them to almost – don’t treat them like a criminal, but treat them with respect and understand that person is going through some crisis, so they come back from this training and they understand and realize that more and they really like it,” remarked Captain Foels.  

The county has been teaming with Crisis Services over the last five years to provide Crisis Intervention Training.  About 450-police officers have been trained at several police agencies.

Erie County Mental Health Commissioner Michael Ranney said important police know where to direct an individual to seek mental health services and possibly avoid arrest.

“There’s also a diversionary factor in this where the intent is to really link individuals with services and also act as an alternative to incarceration. We already have an over representation of individuals with mental health conditions and addictions in our criminal justice system and this is yet another diversionary effort,” Ranney explained.  

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
Area police officers attend news conference to discuss CIT training.

Erie County Central Police Services Commissioner James Jancewicz said all dispatchers, 9-11 call takers and staffers in the county jail have been trained.  

"So an individual that enters the criminal justice system from the beginning to end may encounter one or several individuals, in different rolls, that are CIT trained, and that is part of the goal of this type of training. Secondly, I wanted to highlight that last month the Erie County Law Enforcement Academy began a session with 70 police recruits and when they graduate in December of this year, this will be the first academy that will have received 32-hours of classroom instruction on CIT training,” remarked Jancewicz.

The goal of this new grant is to double the training of officers at a total of total of 15-police agencies. This will include the training of Buffalo Police officers.  

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