Sheriff Sproul on The Challenge of Mental Illness
Monday, June 1st, 2015
Illness is a fact of life. Every organ in the body is vulnerable, even the brain. Although we have made incredible advancements in medicine with regards to dealing with physical illness, the progress towards effective treatment of mental illness has been slower. Since illness of the brain has symptoms which may include abnormal thought patterns and behaviors, those affected often become stigmatized by others. They are being held accountable for that which they are not responsible. We are only now beginning to plumb the depths of this issue, learning just how many are affected and discovering the true insidiousness of the diseases involved.
This issue is especially poignant for law enforcement. The Dougherty County Sheriff’s Office deals on a daily basis with subjects who are victims of mental illness. All too often, those with mental illness, as a result of their condition, act out in ways that are not in conformance with accepted standards. When that happens, law enforcement is often called. Law enforcement officers often are unable to discern the difference between behavior which is criminal and that which is the result of mental illness. The behavior may be similar, but the cause is different. To differentiate, officers require special training. Those who have been trained may be able to direct subjects toward community resources where they can get help and treatment rather than just taking them to jail.
The State of Georgia recognized this over a decade ago and began an initiative to train law enforcement to identify mentally ill subjects in crisis. They trained officers to intervene in a way that worked to help rather than punish. The collaboration of law enforcement and others in the community who work together as a team, a Crisis Intervention Team (CIT), was spearheaded by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) in 2004. Training has been ongoing throughout the state ever since.
During my administration as Sheriff, the Dougherty County Sheriff’s Office began hosting CIT training twice annually, training not only our own staff but those of surrounding agencies as well. Once a year we host a train-the-trainer event to increase the number of CIT instructors in this part of Georgia. We are working a plan to train 100% of our staff in CIT, including our jail staff who are dealing with a population in which 38% have some type of mental illness. My goal is to meet the needs of those in our community, offender or citizen, to promote the safety and welfare of all.
Here at the Dougherty County Sheriff’s Office, we understand that protecting and serving means more than merely chasing and arresting. It means working to create a safer environment for everyone who lives here. It means learning to meet the needs of each and every citizen as best as we can. It means treating every person with dignity, regardless of their behavior. It is a significant challenge but one that we embrace.
If we can be of service to you, please feel free to contact us at 229-431-3259.