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New Crisis Assessment Center allows those with mental illness to get help they need

Prince William County, Manassas and Manassas Park police officers now have a place where they can take people who are suffering with mental illness instead of to the Adult Detention Center (jail).

The new “Crisis Assessment Center” (CAC) has been open since Nov. 30. It is staffed by Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) members who have taken special training through a state grant to deal with people with mental illness, according to Ann Brown, a therapist with the agency known as Prince William County Community Services Board.

Brown said that CIT members take 40 hours of training to learn communication skills and tactics they might use to defuse situations involving people having a mental health or intellectual-disability crisis.

Police officers who have received the training staff the CAC seven days a week between noon and midnight.

The officers have been involved in role playing exercises and have practiced extensively. These skills are designed to produce better outcomes in dealing with people with mental health issues or intellectual disabilities, according to Brown.

The new center is also staffed by a “peer support specialist.”

The specialist has lived his or her own mental health experience—likely “through some part of the temporary detention order and that individual is here for extra support,” Brown explained.

Mental health therapists are also on hand to provide comprehensive assessments to determine treatment needs.

A temporary detention order is called for when a person is having a mental health problem that brings him or her to the attention of the police. 

The aim of the CAC is to keep people out of jail, if possible.

A visit to the center could help deescalate a situation so that the need for incarceration is removed from the equation.

Said Brown, “We would like to divert people from jail. We also want to make the experience less traumatic for the individual, and in general, just have a gentler experience for the individual.” 

Having the assessment center staffed with a detail officer also frees up patrol officers to get back to assigned duties sooner, rather than waiting for a person to be admitted to a hospital, Brown explained.

“I think it helps officers who are on the street to be able to go back to their duties. It’s usually a long period. It takes, sometimes, eight hours or more hours to get people placed in a hospital.”

Brown said the center helps everyone involved. “I think it helps the community because there are many people impacted by mental illness. If you’re a family member, sometimes you feel much better if the individual is brought into a more-friendly environment.”

She noted that training helps police officers because they now have “additional skills to deal with mental health calls, so the situation doesn’t escalate.”

The multi-jurisdictional training program, included law enforcement officers and dispatchers from the Prince William County, Manassas and Manassas Park Police Departments as well as personnel from the Prince William County Sheriff’s Office and the Prince William-Manassas Adult Detention Center, which serve all three localities.

The training was funded by a grant from Virginia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, which Brown said can be renewed annually.

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