Training equips KCPD officers to recognize mental illness

Sgt. Hess and Cheryl Reed

The current mental health system has struggled to meet the needs of communities due to dwindling funds further diverted to other priorities. A lack of in-patient beds, fewer mental health providers and reduced services created a revolving door to jail, homelessness and crisis situations.

In communities all over America, law enforcement officers are pressed into duty as first responders in a psychiatric crisis. The burden of recognizing the difference between criminal behavior and mental illness has fallen to the front line officer. In response to a growing problem, the Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) approach was developed in Memphis, Tenn. It is an effort to enjoin both the police and the community together for common goals of safety, understanding and service to the mentally ill and their families.

CIT was shown to be an efficient tool at breaking this revolving-door cycle, and because the department was logging about 130 contacts per week with individuals showing signs of mental illness, CIT was adopted by the Kansas City, Missouri, Police Department in 1999.

What exactly is CIT? CIT is specialized, voluntary training for police officers on how to work with the mentally ill. It includes training on the most common facets of brain disease including depression, bipolar, schizophrenia and anxiety disorders, as well as medications, developmental disabilities and post-traumatic stress. Special emphasis is placed on working with people in crisis through active listening and principles of de-escalation. Treatment, instead of jail, is emphasized, and officers receive training on diversion programs and mental health court as tools to encourage compliance. Officers receive a total of 40 hours of training in the basic CIT class, which is offered four times a year in KCMO.

Demands on the CIT program have continued to grow and the creation of community mental health liaisons (CMHL) in Missouri has greatly contributed to the ability of mental health professionals to assist police officers. The CIT program has grown to become an integral part of KCPD’s patrol function and currently more than 35 percent of all district officers have been trained. The program has received national recognition and has expanded training to address Youth and Veterans. Additionally, an advanced CIT training class is offered and recently a three-day, CIT-telecommunications class was implemented. The program fulfills an import role and works as a bridge between the community and mental health services providers.

But, CIT is more than just training. CIT is about doing the right thing for the right reasons. CIT recognizes a special population that deserves special care, treatment and service. It takes a special person to become a CIT officer. CIT officers help identify persons in need of community services, assist in getting them connected to those resources, and work to help keep them connected.

These CIT officers play a key role in reducing the likelihood of physical confrontations and enhance the opportunity for better mental health care.

This blog post is part of A Healthy 10.

A Healthy 10

Health Forward Foundation
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