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Collier Coalition for Healthy Minds completed the fourth year of its five-year mental health and addiction services strategic plan with the start of a new training program for local justice professionals. The 8-hour training covers how to more effectively respond to people experiencing mental health crises or substance use dependence.  

The mental health plan was developed by the county’s 19-member Mental Illness and Addiction Ad Hoc Advisory Committee and was passed by the Collier County Board of Commissioners in 2019. It started in 2020 and has six priority areas, which all aim to address the increased demand for crisis support in the county. The behavioral health training addresses two of the priorities of the plan, community education and advocacy, and furthers mental health and addiction initiatives throughout the criminal justice system.   

Collier County Judge Janeice Martin has experience dealing with local mental health issues, acting as the presiding judge of all three treatment courts—drug, mental health and veteran. Before she arrived on the bench almost 15 years ago, she attended a Crisis Intervention Team program on behavioral health.  

“[The class] has informed me every day in the almost 15 years since I have been on the bench,” Martin said. 

The more than 1,400 members of Collier County law enforcement have gone through the training, improving officers’ ability to safely divert those with mental illness from the criminal justice system and help develop a further sense of sensitivity and empathy for those with mental health issues. The training the coalition has developed for justice professionals is a scaled-down version of the CIT program, focusing on the essential elements and bundled into an 8-hour course.  

The coalition held its first training last month at the Collier County Courthouse with help from local experts, including Martin and Lt. Leslie Weidenhammer. Weidenhammer runs the sheriff’s office’s Mental Health Unit.  

“On my wish list for many years has been the thought that, wouldn’t it be great if everybody who works in this building, not just in the criminal division, but also civil—family, probate, guardianship, domestic violence—understands what’s driving the behaviors we’re seeing,” Martin said.  

Collier County Sheriff Kevin Rambosk gave opening remarks at the coalition’s training Dec. 8, citing the importance of the training and beating the stigma behind mental illness. He was introduced to the CIT program in 2008.  

“Prior to [the CIT] we had very limited training. Law enforcement, I think, had two hours, early on. And I remember back when I was on the road and we would run into circumstances where individuals were in crisis, we didn’t know what crisis meant,” Rambosk said. “Unfortunately, we probably didn’t treat them with the respect that they deserved at the time. But more importantly, we didn’t know how to handle what we were seeing.” 

Rambosk said the training will ultimately help those in the community who are in crisis get the help they need more quickly as justice professionals will be more confident in de-escalating a crisis situation and transferring them to a proper facility.  

“The goal still is, if you’ve not been involved in a violent act or hurt someone else, we want to get you to treatment, that’s the goal,” Rambosk said. “Because if we are unable to do that, we will just be holding onto you for much longer than is necessary, right and desired by us. You don’t want us to treat you for mental health, you want a professional organization to do that.”  

The coalition’s goal is to repeat the training until everyone working in the local courthouse has the opportunity to participate. Martin seeks to roll the program out to all five counties in the 20th Judicial Circuit as soon as possible. Those counties include Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry and Lee.  

“Our goal was to make it easily replicated by other communities and that they would bring in their local experts, tailor it to their group, and repeat it,” Martin said. “We think it’s got legs, we think it could be replicated.”  

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