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Community Celebrates Criminal Justice Partnerships

Cindy Schwartz, DCF Partner Deborah Dummitt and Judge LeifmanOn May 15, 2012 nearly 500 community partners in Miami-Dade County came together to learn, recognize achievements and celebrate  success at the 11th Annual Mental Health Transformation in Action Conference, Awards Ceremony and Luncheon.  The conference traditionally begins with education sessions and concludes with an award ceremony recognizing advocates, providers, peer specialists, community stakeholders and law enforcement officers for their exemplary efforts on behalf of individuals with mental illnesses.

The annual conference was hosted by Miami-Dade County Judge Steven Leifman, on behalf of the Eleventh Judicial Circuit in partnership with the Consumer Network, Florida Partners in Crisis and the Florida Department of Children and Families.

Sharon Wise and her "Surviving Spirit"Sharon Wise, M.H.S., Certified Peer Specialist offered a message of hope and recovery during one of two education sessions at the conference.  Wise was diagnosed with a mental illness at a young age and was hospitalized for the first time at the age of nine.  Following over thirty institutions and hospitalizations and multiple encounters with the criminal justice system she now advocates for others who’ve had similar experiences.  Wise speaks openly about her illness and the need to educate providers and criminal justice officials about trauma informed care.  Although clean and sober for more than 23 years, Wise explained that real recovery for her mental illness came when she began to address the many traumas she experienced as a young child growing up in an abusive household.

Each year, more law enforcement officers die from suicide than are killed in the line of duty.  This sobering topic was addressed in the second education session by Scott Allen, Ph.D., Senior Staff Psychologist with the Miami-Dade Police Department.  Allen provided in-depth information on understanding the stress, pressures and culture inherent in law enforcement that can lead to suicide among officers.  The training aimed to heighten awareness of the issue and help officers understand the indicators, important protocols to be considered and potential solutions for those in the law enforcement field.

To kick off the luncheon and awards ceremony, Leifman reminded the audience how far the Miami-Dade County community has come in 11 years of community collaboration.  He echoed the sentiments of Sharon Wise who marveled at the diversity of the audience and joked at the idea of sitting next to a prosecuting attorney when she had no charges pending!  Leifman also noted that thanks to the commitment of law enforcement officials to Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training, there has been a significant decline in arrests of individuals with mental illnesses.   According to county-wide data, Miami-Dade law enforcement officers received 10,000 mental health related calls last year but only 45 arrests resulted from those calls.  Last year, the Miami-Dade County jail experienced the largest decline in its population of any jail in the U.S.

State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle and Judge Steve LeifmanThe conference was highlighted by awards presented to individuals whose commitment to treatment, recovery and public safety have made a significant difference in the community.  Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle surprised Leifman with a Certificate of Appreciation for his continued commitment to bringing systemic change to Florida’s mental health system.

The following awards were also presented:

Lifetime Achievement Award: Carolyn Wilson, Founder/Executive Director of New Hope Drop In Center, Inc.

Advocacy Award: Amy McClellan, Board President, The Key Clubhouse of South Florida

Community Provider Recognition:  Dan Brady, Ph.D., CEO, Douglas Gardens Community Mental Health Center of Miami Beach, Inc.

Community Partner Recognition: Felipe Sosa, United State Immigration and Customs Enforcement

Peer Specialist Recognition: Pam Ford, Peer Specialist Coordinator, South Florida Behavioral Health Network (see related story)

Major Sebastian Aguirre CIT Leadership Award: Lieutenant Jeffrey Locke, CIT Advisory Committee Chairperson, Miami Police Department

CIT Life Saving Award: Officer Julian Chica, Miami-Dade Police Department and Officer Joseph Marin, Miami Police Department (see related story)

CIT Officer of the Year: Officer Melanie Carpio, Hialeah Police Department (see related story)

Officer Evi Cruz, Hialeah Police Department and Officer Jody Rodriguez, Miami-Dade Police Department were recognized as finalists for the Officer of the Year award.

Thank you to all of the awardees for their commitment to improving and saving the lives of people with mental illnesses and addiction. 

Editor’s note: A special thanks to Amy McClellan, Advocate of the Year.  Amy was instrumental in securing more than 3,000 signatures during the legislative session in opposition to proposed cuts to mental health and substance abuse treatment funding.  Each year, Amy leads a strong advocacy effort with members of the Key Clubhouse of South Florida including legislative visits, personal letters, public testimony and phone calls to Miami-Dade delegation members and key legislative leaders in support of mental health services.  Thank you, Amy!