July 1st, 2014

Crisis Intervention Teams: Partnering police and practitioners

Fourteen years ago, Louise C. Pyers, M.S., B.C.E.T.S., founder and executive director of CABLE, Inc. (Connecticut Alliance to Benefit Law Enforcement), published an article on suicide by cop. It attracted the attention of Captain Kenneth Edwards, Jr., a police captain in New London involved with a Crisis Intervention Team (CIT), a program founded in 1988 in Memphis. He invited her to ride along and observe firsthand how CIT worked; she was so impressed that her organization began delivering CIT training to police officers across Connecticut in 2003.

Police officers who undergo the training are taught to evaluate a person in a crisis situation, according to Madelon V. Baranoski, Ph.D., associate professor, Law & Psychiatry Division, Department of Psychiatry at the Yale University School of Medicine, vice chair of the human investigation committee and CABLE CIT faculty member. “A lot of people have not been diagnosed with a mental illness, specifically those who perpetrate violent crimes. But an internal or external crisis triggers the behavior. They may have limited coping skills or be overwhelmed. First responders walk into a situation without knowing the full background of the individual. They have to do full intervention quickly,” she says. “CIT gives them an additional set of skills and helps them recognize signs and symptoms. CIT gives police confidence in their ability to handle these situations. The program allows the public to see the police as problem solvers.”

Week long, 40-hour trainings take place four or five times per year, according to Baranoski. She says that Central Connecticut State University is conducting a study on the effectiveness of CIT. “You can never prove you prevented anything. Police can defuse a situation but it’s hard to measure if nothing happens. The only way to see outcomes is over time. The study is looking at the reduction in crime, the reduction in harmed police officers and the increase in persons brought in for treatment with less use of force,” she says.

CIT provides dispatchers with a list of CIT-trained officers; when a call comes in that involves a mental health situation, one of these patrol specialists is sent to the scene.

In the beginning, CABLE and Edwards conducted two trainings, which were mainly self-funded with some assistance from NAMI-CT. “The organization is police led and family and consumer driven,” Pyers says. “The police have become champions and NAMI-CT brings a personal perspective by collaborating with the community.”

Impressed with the initial success, the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS) agreed to fund a state-wide CIT program, according to Pyers. “DMHAS did some early studies. Rather than look at percentages, they looked at the number of referrals that came out of CIT contact,” she explains. “In the first year, in addition to normal calls, there were 1,500 referrals in four large urban police departments.”

NAMI-CT has become involved and provides a segment during training. “In Our Own Voices” features individuals with mental illness who tell their own stories, according to Pyers, “It’s very powerful.”

The program seeks police officers who are interested in non-violent ways of de-escalating crisis situations. “We look for officers with aptitude, personality, patience and the ability to think creatively,” notes Pyers.

Pyers says, “All in all, CABLE has trained more than 1,700 law enforcement officers across the state, which includes FBI, U.S. Marshall Services, U.S. Coast Guard Academy Police, Veterans Administration Police, Connecticut State Police, probation and parole officers, as well as mental health providers.”

Baranoski says, “CIT enables police and mental health professionals to see themselves as partner professionals.”

By Phyllis Hanlon

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