Many individuals with mental illness should be getting treatment, not jail.
CIT stands for “Crisis Intervention Team” and refers to a collaborative effort between law enforcement and the mental health community. In part, it helps educate law enforcement about treatment for individuals with mental illness and provides them the skills to do their job more safely and effectively.
CIT originated decades ago because officers and community members did not always understand behavioral crisis situations or how to handle them. TRI-CIT, the newly formed CIT council focuses on those efforts in Clay, Platte and Ray Counties.
Today the situations in every community is even more critical. Police officers encounter people with mental illnesses on approximately 25 percent of their emergency calls. TRI-CIT first responders and professionals are now working to provide crisis intervention training to reduce arrests and get these individuals medical treatment rather than sent to jail.
At Tri-County Mental Health, Peggy Gorenflo serves as a full-time Community Mental Health Liaison (CMHL) between law enforcement and the clinical treatment side. There is a clinician in her same position in every mental health center in the state of Missouri. Staff people like Peggy are able to work with law enforcement and help with:
- Home visits to ensure there is family support for the individual with mental illness.
- Establish treatment or follow-up on the treatment plan at Tri-County Mental Health or another facility.
- If there is a crime committed, the clinician can help work through the system alongside law enforcement to ensure mental health treatment is considered.
- Provide ongoing support to officers experiencing their own mental health crises.
In addition, Peggy serves as the mental health co-chair for TRI-CIT working closely with the law enforcement, co-chair Captain Will Akin from the Clay County Sheriff’s Department.
In CIT, law enforcement and first responders learn about mental illnesses, developmental and intellectual disabilities, barriers with the elderly, child and adolescent issues, psycho-pharmacology and suicide, among others. Responders learn how to recognize situations and change their approach to provide the best treatment.
The main idea is for the officers to learn how to calm a person in crisis and then, if transporting them somewhere is required for safety reasons, knowing where to take them. All of this can be very different for someone with mental illness or a behavioral disorder.
The program focuses on the need for advanced training and specialization with first responders, immediacy of the crisis response for those with mental illness, emphasis on officer and consumer safety, and referral for those in crisis to ensure proper mental health treatment instead of incarceration.
The training gives officers the tools and skills to de-escalate in these type of situations where without the training they may have been ill equipped to address the mental health crisis.
Developed in the late 1980s, CIT was built on work done by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) family advocates and a community task force composed of law enforcement, mental health and addiction professionals and consumer advocates.
An intensive 40-hour training curriculum was developed, which focuses on scenarios based on actual incidents. Other parts of the training include individual diagnosis, medications, de-escalation, civil legal and court processes, and perspectives from individuals with mental illness and their family members.
The CMHL for Tri-County Mental Health works with more than 30 area law enforcement agencies including Liberty, Gladstone, Richmond, KCI Airport Police and Platte City.
As of now, the Kansas City, Mo. Police Department is about 40 percent CIT trained.
The following is a typical schedule for a training class:
- Real life mental health scenarios presented by actors (examples might include: autistic teenager is at the home and the parents are at odds. An individual is actively psychotic at the park and the officer has to deal with the public videotaping the situation and work to de-escalate.)
- Peer support for officers. This program helps ensure the officers understand they have fellow officers who understand their daily job and can provide confidential counsel.
- One of the most beloved portions of the week – the consumer panel. Law enforcement get to hear from individuals and their families who have gone through the mental health and law enforcement systems and are doing very well. “These officers are used to dealing with many people when they are in crisis, but it’s eye-opening to see them when they are doing well,” said Peggy. “It’s wonderful for our consumers to share their stories because we can all learn so much from their experiences.”
- And of course, the CIT graduation ceremony.
What are the benefits of CIT?
Cost saving. Over time, this training can be an incredible benefit for our cities because most of the time when there’s a call from the family about an individual who’s mentally ill, they’re not committing a crime. Without the support of a CIT trained officer it can become very expensive for the city. And unfortunately, this can become a recurring issue for the family and the police department. However, with engagement of services and treatment – perhaps a support group or therapist – this cycle can be broken.
Keep law enforcement focused on crime. Some communities have found that CIT has reduced the time officers spend responding to a mental health call. This puts officers back into the community more quickly.
Give police officers more tools to do their job safely and effectively. Research shows that CIT is associated with improved officer attitude and knowledge about mental illness as well as reduced officer injuries during mental health crisis.