Student Reflection: Crisis Intervention Training

November 5, 2015
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Guest Post by Tabitha Hubbard, M.A. Candidate at Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis

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Source: National Association on Mental Illness, http://www.nami.org/cit.

One topic of discussion today in relation to mass incarceration is Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) for first responders. CIT is meant to train police officers on how to react to a situation involving a person with mental illness. The CIT program started in Memphis, Tennessee. In 1987, while responding to a report of a man threatening people with a knife, police officers opened fire killing the man when the he refused to put down the knife.[1] After this incident, “The Mayor of Memphis turned to local advocates from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and enlisted police, community mental health professionals, university leaders, hospital administrators, and church officials to seek a new approach to working with persons with mental illness in crisis.”[2] This group created the first CIT program.

Today, the Memphis CIT program has become a model for other law enforcement agencies across the country. One of the most important parts of CIT is the ability to understand the situation and de-escalate it. Officers who undergo CIT learn about “mental health diagnoses, psychiatric medications, and issues of drug abuse and dependence.”[3] Another important component of this training is that officers spend time with people with mental illness so that they have a better understanding of mental health crisis situations and how to handle them. The University of Memphis CIT Center notes that CIT has made it less likely that people with mental illness will end up in jails after an encounter with a first responder and more likely that they will receive appropriate medical treatment and care after a crisis.[4]

More and more police departments are implementing CIT programs. The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department (IMPD) provides CIT for all of the new recruits.[5] Criticism of IMPD’S handling of CIT heightened after the death of Alex Myers. The criticism centers on the IMPD’S policy of just providing every officer with CIT instead of creating a specialized task force of CIT officers. It is believed that a specialized task force would be better because those officers are better trained and since this is specifically their job they will be more committed to the training.[6]. As Michael Anthony Adams points out in his article, “Mental illness is complicated and it takes a unique person to handle crisis situations.” Therefore there should be specialized CIT task forces to ensure that the right people are trained to handle these types of situations. Although there is still room for improvement, CIT for first responders has helped to better protect people with mental illness and keep them out of prisons.

[1] University of Memphis CIT Center, “The CIT Program: Background,” http://www.cit.memphis.edu/overview.php?page=1.
[2] University of Memphis CIT Center, “The CIT Program: Background,” http://www.cit.memphis.edu/overview.php?page=1.
[3] University of Memphis CIT Center, “Training,” http://www.cit.memphis.edu/overview.php?page=3.
[4] University of Memphis CIT Center, “Jail Diversion and Referral to Healthcare,” http://www.cit.memphis.edu/overview.php?page=4.
[5] Michael Anthony Adams, “The Killing of Alex Myers: Mental Illness and Police,” September 13, 2015, http://www.indystar.com/story/news/crime/2015/09/14/killing-alex-myers-state-crisis-intervention-indianapolis/72090136/.
[6] Michael Anthony Adams.

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