UNION COUNTY, NJ — The freeholder board has authorized funding for the county’s Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) program, which trains law enforcement and mental health professionals to effectively interact with and assist individuals in crisis.

“It’s practical training for both law enforcement personnel, as well as mental health professionals,” said Acting Prosecutor Lyndsay Ruotolo. “They learn how to collaborate in responding to individuals who are in crises.”

“[The program includes] different response techniques that are intensely drilled through the week,” Ruotolo said. “We’re very proud of this program.”

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Ruotolo explained that CIT, run by the Union County Prosecutor’s Office, includes three forty-hour week-long sessions held throughout the year, as well as a fourth shorter session that focuses on responding to juveniles. The program has trained 391 Union County professionals since its inception in 2011, Ruotolo said, which comprises over half the statewide total of 691 CIT-trained professionals.

The freeholder board unanimously approved a $23,000 contract with O’Brien and Kolano, LLC, of Glen Gardner, NJ to provide the training. Ruotolo said the training is run by Maureen O’Brien, a retired assistant prosecutor from the county who worked with the county’s mental health division and veterans affairs programs.

“Maureen O’Brien has assembled a panel of educators to participate in this one-week training program,” Ruotolo said, “as well as family members of individuals who have mental health issues, including family members of an individual who died in police custody, who come and talk to members of law enforcement and mental health providers about their personal experiences, and how they have been touched by family members in crisis who dealt with law enforcement who have not been specially trained in this area.”

“Maureen O’Brien is exceptionally qualified to run this program, and has again, served as a model statewide,” Ruotolo said. “She’s been doing it since 2011.”

Ruotolo said the most recent training, held in June, included members of Bridgeway Rehabilitation Services, Trinitas Regional, Intensive Family Support Services, The Mental Health Association in NJ, Atlantic Health System, Alzheimer’s NJ, Rutgers Psychiatric Rehabilitation Leadership Team, the Lyons Veterans Affairs Hospital, as well as the county’s sheriff’s department and members of other police departments throughout the county.

Several of those who participate in the program, Ruotolo said, come from the Linden Police Department.

“Of the 391 [officials] that are Union County officials, over 80 of them are from the Linden Police Department,” she noted. “It is one of the most CIT-specialized departments in the state, certainly in the county. Many of the members of the Linden Police Department participate in the training.”

Ruotolo said informing county residents about the program would make police responses to crisis situations more effective.

“The goal is to educate the community about this offering, and which departments have officers who are CIT-certified,” she said. “If a family member has someone in their household in crises, they can call the police and advise them before the police respond, ‘My family member is in crises, please send your CIT-trained officer to come.’”