By Linda Lute
Michelle (not her real name) walked down Main Street in her underwear, screaming at passing traffic. When law enforcement arrived on the scene, an officer patiently communicated with her, offered her a blanket and safely transported her for a behavioral-health crisis evaluation.
Michelle’s sister met them at the hospital and expressed her appreciation to the officer that Michelle was treated compassionately. She shared a similar incident 15 years ago where her sister was thrown to the ground and restrained, then left to sit half-naked and shivering in the back of a patrol car for a long period of time while actively hallucinating. During that incident, Michelle was not able to immediately comply with officer requests and was subsequently detained, arrested and taken to jail.
Communities large and small are seeking new and better answers for improving crisis services. In Southwest Colorado, we have found community partnerships revolving around Crisis Intervention Teams of law enforcement officers are critical. In the past, encounters between law enforcement officers and people experiencing a behavioral-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 community’s demand for increased safety and more compassionate first responders in a crisis. CIT officers work in partnership with those in behavioral-health care to provide a system of intervention, services and resources allowing for safe resolution of behavioral-health crisis situations.
Law enforcement officers are frequently the first responders when someone is experiencing a crisis. Research has shown 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. These benefits have been accomplished while significantly decreasing law enforcement officer injury rates.
CIT of Southwest Colorado was developed and implemented by the Mental Health Partnership, a collaborative of local community agencies. The local model was adapted from the original Memphis CIT Model of pre-arrest jail diversion and was the first rural CIT program in the country. The training program was launched in May 2003 and is held each spring. Several years ago, the training focus was expanded to include officers from local detention centers. Students participate in a rigorous 40-hour training program to learn communication and de-escalation skills and strategies to effectively assist people in crises. Training focuses on specific mental illnesses, crisis-intervention techniques and community resources. The training program has graduated 208 law enforcement personnel and 55 civilians since 2003.
This year’s CIT training is scheduled for April 14-18. Civilians are welcome to attend the training; however, they do not participate in the experiential role-play portion of the curriculum.
Each year, the program honors a CIT Officer of the Year. Officers are nominated based on outstanding interactions with an individual or family in a crisis situation. Nominations are currently open for the 2013 CIT Officer of the Year, and you can obtain a nomination form by calling the number listed below. If you would like to nominate an officer, and you do not have a name, we may be able to identify the officer with just the date and location of the interaction.
Crisis arising around behavioral-health concerns is 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 in police situations involving people experiencing a crisis.
CIT of Southwest Colorado has fostered community partnerships greatly enhancing the safety, compassion and services provided to those in crisis.
For more information about CIT of Southwest Colorado or to become a sponsor of the training program by donating goods or services, please call us at (970) 946-6465.
Linda Lute, LAC, MAC, is the training coordinator for CIT of Southwest Colorado.