The Hamilton County Sheriff's Office has hired a manager for a training program aimed at reducing arrests among the mentally ill.
Monica Middlebrooks brings a background in human services, criminal justice and work as a Juvenile Court probation officer with her to the federal grant-funded post.
The sheriff's office hosted the first local session of Crisis Intervention Training in September 2009. Area law enforcement participated in that class and another this March.
"The heart of CIT will be the partnerships we develop," Middlebrooks said.
Chattanooga police leaders said officers have taken quickly to the training, which gives them tips on how to help "talk down" a mentally ill person and reduce high tensions in situations that can turn violent quickly.
Middlebrooks' duties will include coordinating monthly meetings among the medical and mental health community and law enforcement heads.
She'll also plan training and help insert themes of CIT into the basic training for local police. Her office will handle CIT-related work for both the sheriff's office and Chattanooga police.
There are 14 fully trained CIT officers with the sheriff's office and 18 at the Chattanooga Police Department. Those officers graduated from a 40-hour course led by creators of the program from Memphis.
Director G.A. "Gino" Bennett noted the change in attitude among law enforcement has taken time but ultimately saves the mental health consumer, police and the public trauma, time and money.
"The mentally ill don't belong in a jail or in a prison," Bennett said.
The sheriff's office training is being funded by a three-year $250,000 matching federal grant. Middlebrooks' annual salary will be $59,493, officials said.
Hamilton County matches the grant with 25 percent of funds, putting the total at $333,000, Bennett said.
Local law enforcement dispatchers are kept in the CIT loop, diverting calls to the appropriately trained officer on patrol, Chattanooga Deputy Chief Mike Williams said.
Both the sheriff's and police departments try to staff at least one CIT-trained officer per shift, officials said.
"The goal for all CIT is to train 25 percent of officers," Middlebrooks said.
Another weeklong course is scheduled for November. In the meantime, Middlebrooks said, all officers get a two-hour block introducing them to the concept during annual in-service training. After those sessions, department heads usually get a lot of requests from officers for the training, she said.