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National Alliance on Mental Illness
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Patience, Persistence and Partnerships: the Connecticut Alliance to Benefit Law Enforcement

Contributor: Louise Pyers, M.S.

The CT Alliance to Benefit Law Enforcement (CABLE), a grass-roots non-profit organization, was born in 1997 after my son, a 19 year old college student with bipolar disorder, was seriously wounded by a police officer in a "Suicide by Cop" attempt.  CABLE was established with two goals in mind:

1. To encourage cross-training of police and mental health professionals to facilitate a better understanding of mental illness from law enforcement, mental health, family and consumer perspectives.

2. To
support police in dealing with the very unique stressors of their jobs on themselves and their families through "peer support" training.

One might ask a mother whose son was shot by a police officer why she would add that second goal.  After my son woke up from major surgery after the incident, he said, "Please tell that officer how sorry I am that I brought him into my nightmare." After he fell to the ground, he said he saw the officer’s face.  When asked what he saw on the officer’s face, he said, "Horror." That’s when I realized that police are not the stoic "suck-it-up" types you see on TV.  They are human beings who suffer just like the rest of the human race.

CABLE’s little band, at the time consisting of a retired police officer who was also a mental health professional, another civilian and I started researching effective police training models on mental health issues all over the country, but discovered a wonderful law enforcement resource right in our own back yard.   Capt. Kenneth Edwards of the New London Police Department had recently implemented the Crisis Intervention Team model in his department after training with the Memphis Police Department.  He spoke of the CIT model with such passion and conviction that I could see that CIT was a "win-win" situation for police and their communities.  He enthusiastically agreed to take the CIT model "on the road" with CABLE to train other departments in the state. 

The first training was done with the help of a well–respected police training agency and the second training was done with the help of two very committed women from NAMI who marketed the CIT program to police departments in the eastern region of the state and also solicited donations for food and training materials.  Because of those two successful trainings, the State of Connecticut agreed to fund CABLE to deliver CIT trainings throughout the state, starting in 2004. We were on our way! 

Ken Edwards became the law enforcement "champion" for CIT and lead instructor/facilitator for the training.  CABLE coordinates the trainings and works with a wonderful and committed faculty including CIT trained police officers, an attorney, mental health faculty from Yale, community providers, In Our Own Voice presenters and family members.

The officer who shot my son is also on the faculty. He and I do a segment of the training on "Suicide by Cop" and "Post-shooting Trauma." 

Connecticutdoes not have a county system of government, so each police department in every town and city has to be approached.  So far we have reached almost 600 police, parole, and probation officers and their mental health partners from 40 agencies, including 4 college campuses, with 20 departments having CIT policies in place.  Trainings are offered on a regional basis so the police and their mental health partners can form and strengthen mutually beneficial partnerships within their local communities.  NAMI-CT and its affiliates "market" CIT in their local communities and sometimes even hold informational luncheons where Law Enforcement members of CABLE explain CIT to police departments, mental health providers, and other members of the community. NAMI-CT also helps CABLE with some logistical support for the trainings, in the production of a quarterly CIT newsletter and ongoing consultation to the mental health providers who work with CIT departments.

Because CIT implementation will differ from community to community (large urban to smaller rural areas with different resources), the law enforcement members of CABLE work with each department to help them tailor their CIT program to the needs and resources of their particular communities while maintaining fidelity to the model.  CABLE also provides technical guidance in helping each department develop their CIT policies. 

CIT started in Connecticut with a pro-active and passionate police officer and a mother who wanted to help law enforcement understand more about mental illness. But CIT could not have flourished without partnerships with CIT police departments, state and private non-profit agencies like NAMI-CT and others who joined CABLE’s alliance.  CIT was also given a big boost with the financial (and sometimes emotional) support of the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.   

And what about that second goal?  In 2007-2008 CABLE received funding to provide peer support training to 70 state troopers from the CT State Police.  It is almost entirely presented by active and retired law enforcement professionals who are part of CABLE.  We are hoping to train officers from municipal departments next year.

Dreams CAN be realized…with a little bit of help from our friends.

Louise Pyers, M.S., B.C.E.T.S., is Executive Director of the CT Alliance to Benefit Law Enforcement and the Criminal Justice Project Director for NAMI-CT. To learn more about CABLE, please visit their website: http://www.cableweb.org/. 

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