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Former Police Officer Works to Combat Mental Health Tragedies

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photo by luigi ciuffetelli

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During his 25-year career as a police officer in Florida, Josh Thomas frequently came in contact with people living with mental illness. As he grew more interested in what influences people’s behaviors, Thomas was inspired to earn a doctorate in psychology and become a volunteer board member with the local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. He went on to coordinate a crisis intervention team program that trains law enforcement officers to better manage situations that involve a mental-health crisis. The CIT model, established 25 years ago in Memphis, Tenn., has been credited with lowering injuries to police officers who respond to mental health calls by 80 percent.

“Sadly, by default, law enforcement officers become the front-line mental health workers around the country,” Thomas says. After retiring, Thomas moved to the First State and became a board member of NAMI Delaware, a statewide organization that works to improve the quality of life for people with mental illness. He was named executive director last spring and has helped lead the effort to establish a CIT here. During the pilot program in May, 38 officers from seven agencies underwent 40 hours of comprehensive training. Another class is scheduled for next May. The goal is to train 20 to 25 percent of law-enforcement first responders to provide Delaware with around-the-clock coverage. “One of the primary drivers of this is we don’t want tragedies to occur,” Thomas says. “We think that we’re going to lower the potential of those tragedies happening by having specialized officers available throughout the state.”

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