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City police receive grant on mental health training
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Interim Martinsville Police Chief Eddie Cassady accepts a grant check from Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli on Wednesday in Richmond. (Contributed photo)

Thursday, October 10, 2013

By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

More than $166,000 awarded to the Martinsville Police Department (MPD) will be used in this region for training law enforcement to better respond to crisis situations and provide other services to individuals with mental health issues.

Interim Police Chief Eddie Cassady picked up the check for $166,210 Wednesday in Richmond, according to Cassady and a news release from the state attorney general’s office.

At that news conference, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli presented checks totaling $4.2 million to local sheriffs and police chiefs from around the commonwealth, the release stated.

Law enforcement, other first responders and corrections personnel routinely interact with people with mental illnesses. Crisis Intervention Team training provides tools to safely deal with those with mental illnesses and helps those who are ill get proper care by helping first responders understand the circumstances surrounding mentally ill offenders, the release stated.

Currently, more than 25 percent of the statewide jail population has been diagnosed with mental health issues, and more than 12 percent were diagnosed with serious mental illnesses.

Cassady said the MPD applied for the grant and is working closely with Piedmont Community Services (PCS). “We’re very fortunate to get that amount of money in this area,” he said.

Jim Tobin, executive director of PCS, said the funding will be used for two inter-related programs:

• Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training and development for law enforcement officers from the sheriff’s offices of Henry, Patrick and Franklin counties and Martinsville, and the Martinsville and Ferrum College police departments. The funding will support and enhance the CIT training already offered for those agencies, he said.

The news release from the attorney general’s office stated CIT training “increases public safety through better identification of, intervention with, and access to services for individuals with mental illness; reduces injuries to law enforcement when dealing with these citizens and helps them de-escalate potentially volatile situations; and teaches law enforcement where they can refer people for mental health services in lieu of incarceration, when appropriate.”

• The second program is “a new assessment center in cooperation with Memorial Hospital,” Tobin said. The assessment center, which began operation Sept. 30, is staffed by a mental health clinician and an off-duty law enforcement officer and is open from 2 p.m. to midnight Mondays through Thursdays. People under emergency custody order restrictions will receive mental health evaluations there, he said.

According to Tobin, one of the advantages of the assessment center is that an on-duty law enforcement officer can transfer custody of a person with mental health issues to the off-duty officer at the assessment center, and the on-duty officer can get back to his/her other duties, rather than having to wait for as long as several hours. Tobin said that will benefit public safety.

Another advantage, Tobin said, is that the person with mental health issues will be assessed by the mental health clinician at the assessment center and, depending on the assessment, can be referred for hospitalization or, if appropriate, community mental health services. The latter is less expensive and less obtrusive than hospitalization, he said,

Tobin said there are “only six or eight” such assessment centers in Virginia.

The funding from the attorney general’s office will enhance the assessment center, Tobin said. He hopes around Jan. 1, the assessment center will be able to expand its operating schedule to seven days a week, 2 p.m. to midnight. The hours each day probably do not need to be expanded, because the majority of people with mental health issues who go to the emergency room go between those hours, he said.

Also, Tobin said he hopes the assessment center will be able “to add capacity” such as telemedicine and video conferencing to make it more efficient.

In the news release, Cuccinelli said this about the funding for CIT training: “I learned how important this training was for law enforcement and for those with mental illnesses when I served as a court-appointed attorney in Virginia's involuntary civil commitment process. I worked first-hand with these types of folks and their families. Most need help, not jail time.”

He stressed that this money was coming from criminals, not the taxpayers, the news release stated. In 2012, Cuccinelli’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit was the lead investigator in the second largest Medicaid fraud settlement in U.S. history. The $1.5 billion Abbott Laboratories fraud case resulted from the company’s illegal marketing of its drug Depakote for uses not approved safe and effective by the Food and Drug Administration, the release stated.

On top of the restitution to the state’s Medicaid program, the office earned $115 million in asset forfeiture funds as lead investigator in the case. Cuccinelli said he wanted to share $105 million of those funds with state and local law enforcement. This $4.2 million is the first part of that commitment, the release stated.

Henry County Sheriff Lane Perry said the sheriff’s office submitted an application for funding for equipment. “We’re hopeful we still may be getting funds” in the future, he said.


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