December 12, 2012

Crisis Intervention Team model gives police tools, education

Data on effectiveness is limited, but one survey finds that certified officers tend to use less physical force.

By Tux Turkel tturkel@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

The police shooting of a man who was having a mental health crisis led a clinical psychologist at the University of Memphis and a major at the Memphis Police Department to develop the nation's most widely known training program for dealing with people in crisis.

The Crisis Intervention Team model has been taught for 24 years, yet it remains difficult to find clear, overall statistics about the program's effectiveness in preventing violence and reducing the use of deadly force. What research is available is focused more on urban police departments than those in rural states, such as Maine.

Still, the collective experiences at individual departments have made CIT the gold standard in this form of training. An article in last January's issue of Law and Order magazine titled "Patrol Paradigm Shift: CIT and the Mentally Ill," summed it up this way:

"CIT adds that extra bit of education to help officers determine if a person they are interacting with is showing signs of mania, depression or schizophrenia, and what the different approaches are for each illness."

Memphis remains the hub of CIT training, although even there, statistics are hard to come by. The Memphis Police Department has 225 CIT-certified officers, out of a total commissioned police force of about 2,500 officers, according to the department's website.

The Memphis department hasn't collected separate data on violence involving mental health, so it never was able to quantify the impact of the program. However, the department has noticed an overall drop in violence and use of force after CIT training began, said Alyssa Moore, a Memphis police spokeswoman.

In recent years, CIT has been studied by Dr. Michael Compton and other researchers at Emory University in Atlanta. They found Memphis officers who had the training were overwhelmingly more confident in handling situations involving people with mental health problems.

One of the strongest conclusions was presented in a 2009 survey of escalating psychiatric crises involving people with schizophrenia. The survey found that CIT-trained officers at urban police departments in the Southeast chose a lower use of physical force and identified non-physical actions as more effective than their untrained counterparts.

"These findings provide the first empirical evidence that CIT-trained officers may be more likely to use non-physical actions (less force), and perceive them to be more effective," the study noted.

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