Crisis Intervention Teams (CIT)

The lack of mental health crisis services across the U.S. has resulted in law enforcement officers serving as first responders to most crises. A Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) program is an innovative, community-based approach to improve the outcomes of these encounters.

In over 2,700 communities nationwide, CIT programs create connections between law enforcement, mental health providers, hospital emergency services and individuals with mental illness and their families. Through collaborative community partnerships and intensive training, CIT improves communication, identifies mental health resources for those in crisis and ensures officer and community safety.

Core Components of CIT Programs

Community Collaboration: Vitally important to successful CIT programs is building relationships. Community ownership should occur in all phases of CIT programs–initial planning, curriculum development, policies and procedures, and ongoing problem solving. This broad-based, grassroots community collaboration is what makes CIT programs sustainable over time, especially during challenging fiscal and political times.

A Vibrant and Accessible Crisis System: An outcome of productive community collaboration is the transformation of a crisis response system that is vibrant, responsive and easily accessible. Communities should work to provide a 24/7 crisis response, a “no wrong door” philosophy, and a 15 minute or under turnaround time to get first responders back on the streets. Depending on your community (urban, suburban, rural, frontier), these crisis system models may need to be creatively adapted to meet your needs.

Training for law enforcement and other first responders: The training curriculum is designed to be taught by local specialists from the law enforcement, behavioral health and consumer/advocate field. Upon completion of the course,

officers/first responders are better equipped to:

  • Understand common signs and symptoms of mental illnesses and co-occurring disorders;
  • Recognize when those signs and symptoms represent a crisis situation.
  • Safely de-escalate individuals experiencing behavioral health crises;
  • Utilize community resources and diversion strategies to provide assistance.

At the heart of effective CIT programs is officers who volunteer to be identified as a CIT officer and who are skilled and passionate about responding to these calls. Ongoing continuing education and advanced CIT training should be incorporated into the model.

Behavioral Health Staff Training: It is imperative that behavioral health staff develop an understanding of the role of law enforcement/first responders, and why they are trained to respond in ways that they do. This deeper understanding helps to provide insight and gain appreciation for what can otherwise be a culture divide. It is often beneficial for behavioral health staff to do ride- alongs with officers, and vice versa, for law enforcement to do home visits with case managers/therapists. It is also beneficial for law enforcement to provide training to front-line behavioral health workers on law enforcement culture. The goal is a deeper understanding and appreciation of one another’s roles, leading to improved collaboration.

Family/Consumer/Advocate Participation: People with lived experience provide invaluable insight in the training, and consumers and family members are key resources in advocating for CIT programs and improved crisis services. Consumer and family involvement in CIT programs also helps to inform understanding of how law enforcement is trained, building reasonable expectations of what to anticipate when law enforcement is called. Families and advocates also provide important feedback about the overall crisis response system, contributing to continuous quality improvement initiatives.

Police & First Responders Benefits

Not only can CIT programs bring community leaders together, they can also help keep people with mental illness out of jail and in treatment, on the road to recovery. That’s because diversion programs like CIT reduce arrests of people with mental illness while simultaneously increasing the likelihood that individuals will receive mental health services. CIT programs also:

• 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. In Memphis, for example, CIT resulted in an 80% reduction of officer injuries during mental health crisis calls.

• Keep law enforcement’s focus 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.

• Produce cost savings. It’s difficult to estimate exactly how much diversion programs can save communities. But incarceration is costly compared to community-based treatment. For example in Detroit an inmate with mental illness in jail costs $31,000 a year, while community-based mental health treatment costs only $10,000 a year.

Overall Benefits of CIT Programs

• Positive community relationships

• Improved crisis response system

• Trained response to behavioral health crisis calls

• Reduced unnecessary arrests or use of force

• Reduced officer/citizen injuries

• Increased officer confidence in skills

• Reduced liability

• More efficient use of criminal justice resources, including increased jail diversion

Sources: NAMI, CIT International

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