I know that there are meetings being held around the state right now to discuss feedback on the mental health system and to look at possible changes and recommendations.
I have one I hope you will consider.
One of the most recurring themes I hear from all throughout the state in my conversations with people is the issue of how people with mental illness are treated by and interact with the correctional system: police officers, courts, jails, and prisons. I have been told a steady stream of stories by mental health consumers and family members of dealing with police officers that did not have the training or ability to deal effectively with crisis situations they were involved in and someone was needlessly hurt or a big problem got bigger. There have been disasters and close calls enough.
I know that you are familiar with CIT training. In some format it is taught in different areas of the state. There is no state wide mechanism to make it happen that I am familiar with. Whether or not officers receive training is largely a local matter. It depends on local finances and the degree to which local officials buy into the need. And in some communities because of some combination of these two factors CIT trained officers are sparse or not available at all.
What I am proposing is a state center of CIT training. Federal funding is available through the Byrne JAG grants I believe. I think there are a couple of other laws which also provide funding. The need for state funding might be minimal. I know you have the resources to investigate this and I hope you will.
The state center would be responsible for providing training to local departments and by making it clear that having CIT trained officers is a state mandate it would make it more likely more departments would comply.
Not only do police officers, but those who work in jails and prisons also need to be trained. Some states already have a program in place like this and I really hope that Tennessee can also develop a program.
Having a mental illness should not be dangerous. And for too many people it is. Commissioner I hope you will consider my suggestion.