30 Laws in 30 Days: Mental illness education program for law enforcement may expand

By Shelby Mullis

Editor’s note: This is the 20th in a series of stories about new laws that are taking effect, most of them on July 1.

INDIANAPOLIS — Amy Brinkley thinks her brother’s death could have been prevented.

Her 30-year-old brother Paul suffered from attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, better known as ADHD. In his mid-20s, Paul endured several struggles.

“He completely mentally deteriorated right in front of our very eyes,” Brinkley said. “He ended up being incarcerated for almost 10 years in and out.”

Over the last few years of his life, Paul was placed in isolation and made multiple suicide attempts before eventually taking his life in a recovery center.

“I started to see the gaps in the system,” Brinkley said. “I see where the system basically failed him. I failed him. We failed him.”

While Brinkley said her brother had committed a crime and deserved time in prison, he got progressively worse in the environment he was in. She argues if the officers working with her brother had more training, they could have provided him with treatment for his illness.

That type of training could be more accessible to law enforcement communities through Senate Enrolled Act 231, which opens the door for crisis intervention team training.

Crisis intervention teams are a partnership between law enforcement, mental health and addiction professionals, and individuals impacted by a mental illness. Through the training program, officers are taught how to assist individuals with a mental illness or addiction. The officer can then connect individuals with a mental health or addiction professional for further treatment.

The goal of the program is to improve relations and safety between officers and the community, as well as help people with mental disorders or addictions access medical treatments rather than placing them in jail due to their illness-related behaviors.

Brinkley, who served as the National Alliance on Mental Illness Gary Indiana director for two years, helped coordinate 40-hour training class to police departments in Lake County to establish these crisis intervention teams, or CITs.

“I want to see officers see and understand a mental health crisis and stop taking them to jail for it,” said Brinkley. “Stop punishing the symptoms and start treating the causes.”

That’s a slogan used at Gary’s alliance chapter, which opened in 2015 when Brinkley first moved to Lake County. When she arrived, the Gary Police Department was preparing for its first CIT training class. Eighteen people graduated from the class in 2015. That number decreased to nine in 2016.

Due to the northern Indiana city’s high crime rate, low funding and small police staff, it became more difficult for Gary to send officers to the training, Brinkley said.

Under the new law, however, basic CIT training provided at the academy level for new officers would be increased. A team would also be established to travel the state and offer training and education to communities.

Since that type of team does not exist in Indiana, Marianne Halbert, who works for National Alliance on Mental Illness, currently travels around the state solo to provide training to law enforcement and other community entities.

Halbert said the purpose of the legislation is to ultimately bring in state partners like the state’s law enforcement academy in order to get the program running throughout the state.

“The need is really great, because I do hear from sheriffs and police chiefs and folks that want CITs,” said Halbert, the Indiana alliance’s criminal justice director. “We just decided the time was right to try to engage state partnerships to support it in this effort.”

But this access to more training hinges on whether the Indiana Commission to Combat Drug Abuse approves funding for the new team. The commission is expected to announce their decision at its next meeting on Aug. 24.

“Our Indiana legislature is very cognizant of the fact that there is an addiction crisis, that mental illness impacts every community,” Halbert said. “All of them have constituents that are impacted by these issues.”

The legislation received unanimous support from both the Indiana House and Senate before being signed into law by Gov. Eric Holcomb in April.

“I see the need,” Brinkley said. “I see that the need is great. Just from the personal experience level, we need change.”

Shelby Mullis is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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