Bill (not his real name) was walking down the sidewalk without clothes on, muttering loudly to himself. When law enforcement arrived, the officers talked with him, wrapped a blanket around him and safely transported him for a crisis evaluation.
Bills family later thanked the officers for treating him with care and compassion. In a previous incident when he lived in Texas, Bill had been badly injured and taken to jail when he would not immediately comply with officers requests.
In La Plata County and the city of Durango, we have found that partnerships revolving around Crisis Intervention Teams of law-enforcement officers are critical. In the past, encounters between law-enforcement officers and people experiencing a mental-health crisis often resulted in unnecessary physical restraint, the person being taken to jail and, in some cases, severe injury. The CIT concept is a vital component in our communitys demand for safer and more compassionate first-responders in a crisis. CIT works in partnership with those in behavioral health care to provide a system of intervention, services and resources that allows for safe resolution of behavioral-health crisis situations.
CIT was founded in Memphis, Tenn., and it is based on the principles of dignity, understanding, kindness, hope and dedication. Rural law-enforcement agencies face many different challenges, and the original model has been modified to fit the needs of communities in Southwest Colorado.
CIT of Southwest Colorado was the first rural CIT program in the country. The first class of local CIT officers graduated in May 2003. Formal CIT teams have been at work in La Plata County and the city of Durango for the last nine years, and many other local law-enforcement agencies have sent personnel to the yearly training. This years class graduated April 29.
Officers participate in a 40-hour training program that focuses on specific mental illnesses, crisis-intervention techniques and community resources. They learn skills and strategies to effectively de-escalate people in crisis. Last year, the training was expanded to also include training of local detention staff.
Research has shown that CIT is effective in developing positive perceptions and increased confidence toward law-enforcement officers; providing skilled crisis response; increasing jail diversion among those with mental illness; and improving the likelihood of treatment consistency with community-based providers for those struggling with a serious mental illness or substance-use disorder. These benefits have been accomplished while significantly decreasing the probability of injury to both residents and law-enforcement officers.
Law-enforcement officers are first responders when someone is experiencing a crisis. Crises related to mental illness are about our community, our friends, our family and each one of us. In CIT training, law-enforcement officers are trained to use de-escalation and communication skills gained through specific education and practice to identify and provide the safest, most compassionate response possible to police situations involving people experiencing a behavioral-health crisis.
CIT of Southwest Colorado has fostered community partnerships that greatly enhance the safety, compassion and service provided to those in crisis.
For more information about CIT of Southwest Colorado, call me at 335-2203.
Linda Lute, LAC, MAC, is the executive vice president of Clinical Operations at Axis Health System.