Are individuals with mental illness violent? While there is much debate on the topic, the fact remains those with mental health concerns are seven times more likely to become a victim of a violent crime rather than a perpetrator. Today, it is common to read the newspaper and hear a story regarding someone with a mental illness that has had some type of encounter with law enforcement. In fact, 7-10% of all police encounters involve someone with a mental illness (Substance Use Mental Health Service Administration, 2009). This complex nature of police responses to individuals with behavioral health issues has become a topic of national concern. Jails and prison populations have increased since deinstitutionalization in the 1950s, in which time they became the new psychiatric hospitals. However, diversion programs have been developed in order to decrease the number of mentally ill people in correctional institutions, while also focusing on officer, public and consumer safety.
What is CIT?
The first Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) program began in Memphis, Tennessee in 1988, as a result of the death of a mentally ill man whose mother called the police for assistance. Seen as best practice, a CIT program is a community police approach that calls for collaboration from law enforcement, mental health providers, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), consumers, hospital emergency departments and local boards to improve the responses to people with behavioral health concerns and/or other crises. Programs around the world focus on identifying resources, enhancing communication as well as coordination of service and increasing the understanding of mental illness. The overarching goal of CIT is to improve consumer and officer safety and to redirect individuals with mental illness from the judicial system to the health care system.
CIT in Stark County
Since 2004, Stark County has provided a robust 40-hour-a-week CIT training twice every year. To date, we have trained multiple law enforcement, dispatchers, security officers, campus police and other first responders. In fact, a 2017 report from Northeast Ohio Medical University (NEOMED) states that 412 fulltime, sworn Ohio law enforcement officers have been trained in CIT. The training consists of topics of general mental illness, substance use, responding to youth or the elderly or those with developmental disorders, the impact of trauma, the impact of culture and self-care for law enforcement.
Recently, the Stark County CIT Steering Community implemented the premise that CIT is “more than just a training,” and has begun to adopt the core elements of an effective CIT program in Stark County. According to the Ohio CIT Strategic Plan, authored by the Criminal Justice Coordinating Center of Excellence out of Northeast Ohio Medical University, when CIT is implemented according to its core elements, it brings about a change in community culture, impacting both law enforcement and behavioral health systems as well as consumer attitudes and beliefs.
The Core Elements of CIT include:
- Partnerships with law enforcement, advocacy groups, behavioral health system
- Community ownership
- Developing policies and procedures for crisis response
- A robust training menu
- Emergency response protocol for those in crisis
- Evaluation and research of CIT
- Honoring CIT officers
Additionally in Stark County, we have expanded our Steering Committee, which now includes more consumers, court systems, parole, hospital emergency departments and more local law enforcement departments. We are currently looking into data collection with several law enforcement departments within our county. We are also expanding our training calendar and enhancing information sharing protocols.
How Can CIT Help Consumers and Families?
If you or a family member are having a mental health crisis and are in need of assistance, we encourage individuals to first call the Crisis Hotline at 330-452-6000. If the situation escalates and police involvement is needed, let the dispatcher know that the situation involves a mental health consumer and ask for a CIT-trained officer if possible. This allows dispatchers to request a trained individual, if available. It also allows responding officers to know that the individual in crisis has behavioral health concerns.