State Committee Hearing Spotlights Local Mental Health and Law Enforcement Partnership Programs
Recently, Pennsylvania lawmakers held a hearing on how police handle mental health calls. Cori Seilhamer, Franklin County’s Mental Health Program Specialist and Certified CIT Coordinator, offered testimony regarding the County programs.
On August 13, 2020, Seilhamer addressed the House Democratic Policy Committee, discussing the success of the Franklin County Mental Health Co-responder program. Since the program’s inception in April 2017, close to 900 individuals have been diverted from the criminal justice system. Of those individuals, 90% have had no further interaction with police.
Franklin County’s Mental Health Co-Responder program embeds a mental health professional, or “co-responder,” into local law enforcement agencies in Greencastle, Waynesboro, Washington Township, and Chambersburg. The co-responders work to connect individuals who are identified as being in crisis with community based supportive services. When police are dispatched for an incident where the behavior does not escalate to the level of police officer custody, the mental health co-responder is called in to start the risk assessment process and determine the needed level of care.
Seilhamer views the program as a “relationship between law enforcement and the mental health community” and would love to expand the co-responder program into every police department. "Our police officers shouldn't have to try and navigate our mental health system because it's not easy," she said. "They have special skills we need to keep out on the streets. Let the mental health folks take care of the mental health issues."
In addition to the Co-responder Program, Seilhamer coordinates and leads training for Franklin County's Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) which she also discussed with the committee.
The goal of CIT is to provide safer interventions for officers and community members. Team members are trained to intentionally approach incidents with concern for the wellbeing of the citizens involved and to use de-escalation methods for people experiencing behavioral health crises due to mental illness and/or co‐occurring substance use disorders. CIT also provides resources to officers in order to re‐direct these individuals into emergency behavioral health facilities.
Started in 2015, Franklin County CIT members include state and local law enforcement, first responders, crisis workers, jail officers/staff, probation/parole officers, hospital staff, mental health professionals and advocates. Franklin County has over 180 trained CIT members.
“Our programs would not be successful without the partnership between mental health professionals and law enforcement. We’re hopeful that Franklin County can be a model for communities across the state,” said Commissioner Chairman Dave Keller.
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