by Christina Agda, LCSW,
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. In honor of that we will have several mental health related articles. This one comes to us from the Tulare County Health & Human Services Agency. You can learn more about Mental Health Awareness Month on the Mental Health America website.
In 1987, Joseph Robinson, a young man who struggled with mental illness, died as a result of a violent encounter with the Memphis Police Department in Tennessee. His death became the impetus for a unique collaboration between police and the community, mental health advocates, and providers of mental health services who identified that law enforcement needed training, resources, and an ongoing system of support to understand how to approach individuals who are experiencing a mental health crisis. The collaboration resulted in the nation’s first Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) program, known as the Memphis Model, in 1988, and has inspired other CIT programs nationwide.
Retired Visalia Police Chief Bob Carden approached the Tulare County Health & Human Services Agency (HHSA) about implementing a CIT training program for Tulare County in 2007. A community partnership between local law enforcement, county health care services, mental health advocates, and consumers of mental health services was formed, and Tulare County HHSA held its first CIT training class in 2008.
The CIT training academy instructs individuals in law enforcement fields how to safely interact with mental health consumers in crisis, and address their needs. Law enforcement officers and other individuals in the law enforcement field are provided information and resources, and are taught skills that allow effective problem-solving when responding to incidents involving mental illness.
When a police officer with CIT training encounters an individual with a mental illness who is in crisis, the officer is able to redirect the individual from the judicial system to the health and mental health services and support he or she needs to become stable. Overall, injuries to the mentally ill as well as to officers are reduced, as is contact with police.
Trained CIT Officers interact with crisis situations with:
• Improved de-escalation and crisis resolution skills
• Reduced stigma and assumptions
• Cultural sensitivity
• Enhanced knowledge of mental health-related topics
• Greater understanding of laws that protect people with disabilities
• The knowledge to provide referrals, resources, information, and follow-up for consumers and their families
• The ability to identify and transport individuals with a need for specialized treatment to the appropriate facility
• A greater understanding of first-responder self-care.
Course curriculum consists of presentations, panel discussions, site visits, and scenarios practiced with persons who have lived with mental illness. The course covers topics such as: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injuries, mental health diagnosis information, intellectual delays, alcohol and drugs, elder abuse, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), officer wellness, juvenile issues, homeless challenges, Transitional Age Youth (TAY), community resources, dispatch calls involving individuals with mental illness, and laws and regulations as related to individuals with mental health issues.
CIT training has been shown to be effective in increasing the likelihood that individuals in mental health crisis receive appropriate treatment, enhancing the confidence and compassion of those in the law enforcement field, promoting positive perception in the community, and increasing officer safety rates.
This summer marks the 20th class for Tulare County, and there are now 19 individual California Police Officer Standards in Training (POST)-certified curricula that are 32 to 40 hours in length. Many of these courses are offered several times a year and serve multiple agencies within a community. Tulare County HHSA and the Visalia Police Department collaborate to facilitate two trainings, in spring and fall, each year.
Christina Agda, LCSW
Psychiatric Emergency Team Manager
Tulare County Health & Human Services Agency – Mental Health Branch
Visalia Adult Integrated Clinic
“CIT has been helpful and beneficial to our department and community (and all of law enforcement). Anytime de-escalation can occur with a person suffering from mental health-related issues, it decreases risks and potential liability issues resulting from use of force. One of the “guiding principles” presented by the Police Executive Research Forum is the increased use of the CIT-type of training: www.policeforum.org/assets/30%20guiding%20principles.pdf. Our officers have found it to be useful in understanding the “why,” more than just the behavior associated with some subjects we encounter. Having fewer use-of-force incidents increases public trust while decreasing expenses in complaints, injuries, and litigation.” Lt. Candido Alvarez, District 1 Area Commander, Visalia Police Department.
“We are being impacted more and more with calls for service related to mental illness. Having the training to best assess the illness and obtain proper treatment has a major impact on our community. We can sometimes respond to as many as 2-3 calls per day related to mental illness, making it a significant issue. The training has aided us in the proper identification and most appropriate treatment of the illness.” Administrative Sergeant / Hostage Negotiation Team Leader, Rick Carrillo, Porterville Police Department.
Check out KRL’s Mental Health section for more mental health related articles.