CIT Training Increases Safety for Those in Crisis and Officers Who Respond

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Four Corners CIT therapist trainers Roselyn Ward, Kyle Elder, Mellissa Huntington, Pat Wilson, not pictured; Jonathon Fauver, Jennifer Thomas, Andrea Barney, and Rick Donham

Guest columnist Karen Dolan – Executive Director, Four Corners Community Behavioral Health
“The criminalization of mental illness is nothing less than a national disgrace”. However, according to the Treatment Advocacy Center, a national non- profit aimed at reducing the criminalization of mental illness, Utah has done an outstanding job of training law enforcement officers and creating mental health courts to deal with the mentally ill. Utah is the ONLY state receiving  an A+ for their efforts.

A study commissioned by this same group in 2010 found that more than 3 times as many severely mentally ill persons in the US are doing time in jails and prisons than receiving treatment in hospitals. Sixteen percent of all inmates in America have serious and persistent mental illness. Because of two specific diversionary tactics for diverting mentally ill offenders, Utah is the only state in the nation with an A+.

Diversion is a term that encompasses a number of practices that work to move the mentally ill away from correctional institutions and into treatment. Most offenses are non-violent crimes such as property crimes, drug crimes, trespassing, loitering, public urination, panhandling and intoxication. Violent offenses are almost always excluded from consideration for diversion. The way to reduce re-offending is definitely engaging a mentally ill person in supportive treatment, not incarceration.

Diversion can include mental health courts where a person is sentenced to treatment rather than incarceration, to probation or parole officers ensuring that treatment is followed up on. Also effective is ‘CIT’ or Crisis Intervention Team policing where local officers understand mental illness and have specific techniques to calm down situations and channel people into resources.

Unfortunately, in Eastern Utah,we do not have mental health courts yet. But the local area does have effective CIT trained officers in Carbon and Emery counties.

Through intensive training, local law enforcement officers become mental health specialists. When a mental health incident arises in the community, the department’s CIT officers are dispatched to the scene. Over time, the CIT officers get to know mentally ill community members they serve and develop a relationship with them. They can then use these relationships to calm things down and help the person get the help they require. Suicide attempts and mental health crisis concerns are recognized as a priority.

Crises are about people, community, families, friends and loved ones. CIT is founded on principles of dignity, understanding, kindness, hope and dedication.

CIT officers successfully complete state authorized training and pass required testing to become certified as a crisis intervention team officer through the Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health.

The CIT Academy is a 40 hour course completed over a one week session. The instructors include physicians, psychologists, licensed social workers, specialists and police instructors. Four Corners clinical staff provide clinical training to local officers for CIT certification.

CIT Academy students receive training in:

  • Introduction to clinical disorders
  • Psychotropic medications
  • Borderline personalities
  • Substance abuse
  • Dual diagnosis
  • Legal issues
  • Suicide prevention
  • Elderly and children’s issues
  • Developmentally disabled
  • Community resources
  • Consumer perspectives
  • Intervention strategies

In Carbon and Emery countie,s 20 officers have been CIT certified.

CIT trainers use the word deescalate a lot. Deescalation is the difference between upsetting people who are in a mental health crisis and calming them down; between making an arrest or referring someone to the help they need; and between showing force and saving lives.

For people with mental illness and their families, deescalation is essential. For many, the CIT program has eased a lot of fears for families. They can ask for CIT officers who are trained to recognize and deal with the symptoms of mental illness in a compassionate, non-threatening way.

It has been a great help to families who might otherwise hesitate to call in law enforcement for fear of making a bad situation worse.

When officers respond appropriately to people in a mental health crisis, they can calm them down rather than use force and provoke behavior that might lead to an arrest. The program enhances safety for both those in crisis and the officers who respond. CIT officers are trained to recognize signs of a mental health crisis, and even to recognize the type of crisis. For example, a person with severe depression might require a different technique than a person with paranoia.

If a loved one is experiencing a mental health crisis, dial 911 or contact local law enforcement and request a CIT trained officer. Let them know this is a mental health crisis.

Below are photos of Carbon and Emery law enforcement officers who have become CIT trained. Deputy Matt Williams, Deputy Taver Grange, Deputy Adam Cox and Deputy Tony Anast  from the Carbon County Sehriff’s Office have also completed the CIT training, but photos are unavailable.

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