According to the Lynchburg Police Department, as many as 20 percent of people behind bars across the country have some sort of a serious mental illness. Over the past two years the Lynchburg Police Department has been getting a federally-funded grant to keep people out of prison by getting them the help they need.
In the first year, the police department received about $70,000 from the grant. This year, the grant provided them with just over $69,000. By the end of the four years, the idea of the program is to become self-sufficient.
Lynchburg Police go on about 75,000 calls a year. Patrol supervisor Travis Blodgett estimates one in 10 calls are for mental health issues. Blodgett is one of the people behind the new crisis intervention team (CIT).
"You might actually be able to stop the catastrophe," Blodgett said. "You might be able to intervene with somebody and get them the help they need before something horrible happens."
He says there weren't many options previously:
-charge and arrest the person
-de-escalate the situation
-an emergency custody order that can take officers off the street for hours and turn into a more permanent detention.
By training about 20 percent of the force and working with community members like Centra Health, they've cut the number of people who need more evaluations in half.
"It's making our job easier," Blodgett said. "We're not having the same 'repeat customers,' if you will. We're able to intervene more often instead of the same calls over and over again. What we're able to do is get these folks who are dealing with mental health crisis, get them the help they need."
"I see an increased interest on the part of law enforcement agencies to have their officers trained and I think that's very, very important," said Diane Kelly, the executive director for Mental Health America of the Roanoke Valley.
Kelly trains Roanoke area agencies in the CIT program and sees the difference it makes. The NRV also has a CIT program.
"They know what will make the situation worse, but they also know what will make it better and they're able to use those skills as they work with the public," Kelly said.
"The more people we're able to help, the more success we are going to have," Blodgett said. "That's our hope."