Patrick Halpern, CIT Coordinator
An Overview of CIT in the New River Valley
The Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) is a well-documented and successful model of improving police interactions with persons with mental illness. It is a pre-booking diversion program developed to prevent the inappropriate incarceration of individuals with mental illness and provide an alternative outcome which addresses both public safety and therapeutic concerns.
While the heart of the program is comprised of 40 hours of specialized law enforcement training, that educational piece is only part of what CIT represents. As its founder, Major Sam Cochran of the Memphis Police Department says, “It’s more than just training!”
The New River Valley CIT program was adapted from the original best practice model created by the Memphis Police Department in 1988. While the Memphis CIT model has been replicated nationally and internationally, the New River Valley’s model is unique because it was the first program to successfully adapt the program to a rural, multi-jurisdictional setting. The New River Valley CIT program developed the first program in Virginia and has since provided considerable leadership and support across the Commonwealth.
The training component of CIT is designed to educate and prepare law enforcement officers who come into contact with people with mental illnesses to recognize the signs and symptoms of these illnesses and to respond effectively and appropriately to individuals in crisis. Because law enforcement officers are often the first responders in these incidents, it is essential that they know how mental illnesses can alter people’s behaviors, perceptions and reactions. These specially trained CIT officers and deputies, ideally self-selected and supervisor recommended, should comprise about 20 – 25% of a department’s patrol force; the goal is to have the number of CIT officers needed within a given coverage area to provide 24/7 response.
Officers and deputies trained through the CIT program develop significant expertise in handling mental health issues and are skilled at recognizing and de-escalating crises involving people with mental illness, while bringing an element of understanding and compassion to these difficult situations. In most areas with a CIT program, the trained CIT officer becomes the officer in charge at any scene involving a mental health crisis so that he or she can utilize their training to direct other officers in the way most likely to produce the desired outcomes.
In addition to providing 40 hours of training for law enforcement officers, the goals of the CIT program include the creation of strong relationships among law enforcement, mental health practitioners, consumers and family members, hospital systems, and the legal system through the establishment of locally based task forces.
Mental health crisis response is not the sole responsibility of law enforcement. All parties impacted through these encounters must become part of the solution in order to sustain the program and achieve the desired outcomes. Outcomes include:
– Reduction in stigma;
– Less injury to officers and consumers;
– Quicker turnaround time for law enforcement to get back to regular patrol duties;
– Avoidance of unnecessary restraint and incarceration of persons with mental illness; and
– Provision of alternatives to incarceration for these individuals with appropriate treatment in the community.
Training for Dispatchers
CIT programs additionally benefit from standard training for dispatchers. NRVCIT has developed a four-hour training curriculum for dispatchers that provides additional skills to assist them in recognizing when a call involves a mental health component, how to contact and dispatch the on-duty CIT officer, becoming familiar with frequent users of services, as well as their family members, as well as verbal de-escalation techniques – all of which can assist in creating swifter, more prepared and more successful response outcomes.
CIT Assessment Center (CITAC)
Another key component of a successful CIT program is the creation of a therapeutic crisis assessment center, where law enforcement officers can take individuals in crisis and transfer custody to allow for immediate evaluation and triage in a therapeutic – rather than law enforcement – setting.
The New River Valley CIT Assessment Center (CITAC) opened in January 2013 and has had an immediate and ongoing impact on law enforcement and crisis services in the New River Valley. CITAC is an NRVCS (New River Valley Community Services) facility, located just outside the Emergency Department at LewisGale Hospital Montgomery (LGHM) and it represents an innovative collaboration among local law enforcement, NRVCS and LGHM.
The Center is open 16 hours per day, 7 days per week to allow for CIT officers and deputies to transfer custody of individuals of persons going through the civil commitment process during peak utilization hours. For law enforcement that are able to access the Center, it has reduced law enforcement involvement in the civil commitment process by 80% leading up to transportation for a temporary detention order.
“CIT has created a positive impact in our region for officers, consumers and the community through increased education, more effective access to services, and greater interagency cooperation and understanding.”
– Patrick Halpern, New River Valley CIT Coordinator