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Crisis Intervention Teams In Law Enforcement

Written by Chelsea Dunning

Role of Crisis Intervention Teams in Policing Communities

With the recent trends in mental health there seems to be a goal of working towards ending the negative stigma associated with mental illness. In addition, changes have been made in some communities regarding how police departments respond to emergency calls involving individuals who suffer from mental illness.

For some people, having a mental health diagnosis can cause stress, resulting in panic attacks, the inability to decipher reality, and a tendency to lose composure under stressful conditions and situations. Some of these situations can drive an individual to display out of control behavior which may manifest as erratic or threatening behavior towards themselves or others.

These situations can be tense and often misinterpreted, but having the proper training for officers responding to these calls can help them to recognize when individuals are suffering from a mental health crisis. Proper training is also essential when it comes to determining how to appropriately handle these situations, and can ultimately save lives.

Law enforcement officers are often the first contact in these situations and are often in the best position to start the Crisis Intervention Team process. As a result, law enforcement agencies across the U.S. have begun to look more closely at this important training tool.

Scrabble - Mental Health: First Ait

How Are Crisis Intervention Teams Created?

Developing and implementing a crisis intervention team takes the work of law enforcement officers, advocates and the mental health community. These individuals work together to ensure that responding officers are trained to identify situations that need a crisis intervention team (CIT) and then, in turn, those officers are responsible for training additional members of the crisis intervention team.

CIT officers have undergone training, usually through community mental health agencies, to de-escalate without force, properly restrain individuals and make initial assessments on how to handle the situation. Ideally, once a Crisis Intervention Team officer responds to a call, they can help de-escalate the situation, keeping the subject and bystanders safe, and then put those involved in contact with the mental health resources that are needed. These officers attend regular in-service trainings, meetings with other CIT members and boards, while completing their normal duties as law enforcement officers. Often times CIT members volunteer their services and elect themselves to be part of the task force.

Many cities often have a very small number of officers who are trained in crisis intervention. These specially trained police officers are called in to situations involving mental health crises by the responding officers at the scene.

What Do Crisis Intervention Officers Do?

In some communities CIT members assert high presence in areas where individuals with mental illness may frequent such as homeless shelters, community mental health agencies and urban areas, working to make a positive association with police. Drawing on the tenets of community based policing, this engagement can help establish trust between the mentally ill and the police officers, which can be crucial to determining the outcome of crisis situations.

These CIT officers not only know how to handle situations in which a person is exhibiting behavior related to mental illness, they also know where to take a person who is suffering from a psychotic break or a mental health exacerbation. Instead of transporting these individuals to jail, where symptoms can worsen and increase in severity, officers are trained to take these individuals to a hospital with a mental health unit where they can be treated for their symptoms.

Identifying the difference between violent, malicious behaviors and a panic attack can make a huge difference, not only in the life of the individual, but also those involved in the criminal justice system. In light of the recent news surrounding police involved shootings across the country, Crisis Intervention Training may be an essential tool that more police departments could implement in the future.

Jailing an inmate that suffers from mental illness can affect other inmates and officers, as well as pose a hazard to the health of the individual. When a subject is taken to jail instead of being transported to an appropriate mental health facility, incidents can occur that may lengthen an individual’s sentence or move them to seclusion. These types of environments can be dangerous for those in mental health crises and rather than promote healing and rehabilitation may create more harm for individuals suffering from severe mental illness.

Placing these individuals in mental health centers, through the use of healthcare professionals that are members of the crisis team can keep them safe. With proper monitoring and therapeutic environments, individuals who may cause self harm without awareness or actual intent can be prevented from doing so.

Guidance for developing and implementing crisis intervention teams can be found through the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and CIT International. These are two agencies working towards educating the public and law enforcement agencies about mental health awareness and providing training in areas of crisis intervention.

If you are interested in learning more about programs that can help prepare you for a career in the criminal justice field, contact the schools listed on this site to request information! You can also request more information about the role that Crisis Intervention Training plays in your education.

Ms. Dunning has over 5 years of experience working with at-risk youth and vulnerable populations, has served as a family drug court case manager for the Oklahoma County Department of Mental Health Services and Oklahoma County Child Welfare Services, and enjoys educating the public about the criminal justice system.