Crisis Intervention Team, or CIT, training is a model for first-responding law enforcement officers to more effectively deal with mentally ill persons, with the goal of improving safety for the officers, mental health consumers, family, and citizens.
Developed in 1988 as a partnership between the Memphis, TN Police, the Memphis Chapter of the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI), and other area mental health experts, the Memphis CIT Model was created to bring a better response to mental health calls for service.
Memphis PD worked with mental health professionals and arrived at their solutions to the issues that arise when police encounter a person in a behavioral crisis. Of their 1400 sworn officers, MPD trained 225 officers and formed their Crisis Intervention Team.
The responsibility of the CIT officers is to immediately respond to these mental health crisis calls and assist as a leader in managing the call and de-escalating the situation using their training. CIT strongly stresses that officers do not violate officer safety tactics while resolving the situation.
Key to the success of the Memphis Model has been the utilization of officers who volunteer for the program and are screened through a selection process for the necessary attributes. The Memphis Model advocates a rate of 20-25% of the patrol officers at a department be CIT trained.
During initial training, officers participate in a 40-hour comprehensive training session. Some topics include:
• Clinical Issues Related to Mental Health Illnesses
• Medications and Side Effects
• Alcohol and Drug Assessment
• Co-Occurring Disorders
• Family/Consumer Perspective
• Suicide Prevention and Practicum Aspects
• Rights/Civil Commitment
• Mental Health Diversity
• Personality Disorders
• Post Traumatic Stress Disorders
• Legal Aspects of Officer Safety
• Community Resources
Memphis PD cites that, through CIT, arrests and uses of force have decreased, along with officer injuries, in their interactions with people in mental health crisis.
The Portland, OR Police Bureau has had a different experience with instituting the Memphis Model. The Portland bureau began a CIT program in the mid-1990’s, bringing in a mental health coordinator used by Memphis PD. But since the original training, and following a shooting death in 2006, Portland Police began training all sworn officers in CIT.
Mental health advocates believe that when Portland Police changed the model, they changed its effectiveness. Portland police officers are now trained in CIT as soon as they leave the academy. Critics assert that instructing non-volunteers, who have not yet demonstrated suitability for CIT or police work, is a danger.
Portland Police had eight officer-involved shootings from the Jan 1, 2010 until Jan 2, 2011. PPB had only seven officer-involved shootings from 2007 through 2009. The claims that seven of the eight recent shootings have involved mentally ill persons tend to question the effectiveness of Portland Police’s CIT program.
In January 2011, Portland Police Chief Michael Reese had defended their CIT program and the officers’ actions in each shooting. He said in all cases the officers attempted de-escalation and used less lethal options where possible.
Faced with criticism, Chief Reese none-the-less ordered staff to study other cities’ CIT programs and come up with any recommendations they could for changes.
In March 2011, Reese stated that his department’s investigation revealed six of the eight shootings involving mentally ill subjects. The bureau was attempting to implement changes to dispatch questioning and less lethal tactics.
By July 2011, and after another officer-involved shooting of an alleged mentally ill person, the Department of Justice began an investigation into the Portland Police shootings and how they relate to the mentally ill.
It is important for a department that wants to implement new policies and procedures to study the results of previous efforts. If programs such as the San Jose Model for FTO or the Memphis Model for CIT are desired, then a practical application and a legal defensibility can be maintained by following the successful programs’ guidelines.
Randall is a twenty-three year sworn police officer in a mid-sized Florida police department. He has been an FTO, K9 Handler, Detective, and SWAT Team Leader. He is currently the Midnight Shift K9 Sergeant and department SWAT Coordinator.
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