When law enforcement officers come into contact with someone experiencing a psychological crisis, the results can be tragic: Of the people fired on by police in Maine since 2000, 42 percent of those shot – and 58 percent of those killed – had mental health issues.

Not enough Maine law enforcement officers, especially in rural areas, have been getting the training they need to defuse life-threatening situations. Legislators should give serious consideration to a proposal requiring each Maine police agency to have an officer certified in de-escalation tactics.

The crisis intervention team model was developed in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1988, a year after the fatal shooting of a suicidal man who’d moved toward police officers when they asked him to drop his knife.

Law enforcement officials who choose to undergo crisis intervention training learn how to recognize different kinds of mental illness and how to calm people who feel threatened or may react violently. Officers also practice their new skills, role-playing scenarios like the ones they encounter on the job. CIT programs reduce not only the use of force but also injuries to officers, studies show; they may also save money by getting people with serious mental illnesses into treatment in a more timely manner.

Maine police agencies’ CIT participation is uneven. Every officer in Portland, Maine’s largest city, has undergone the voluntary training, offered by the Maine chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. In Augusta, home to Maine’s biggest psychiatric hospital, over half of all city officers are CIT-certified.

But only about 10 percent of all officers in the Maine State Police – the department involved in the most shootings since 1990 – have had the training. The involvement of rural police forces is also spotty.

State Rep. Richard Malaby said his bill will mandate that 20 percent of full-time-equivalent officers in all Maine agencies get CIT training within two years. According to Malaby, a Hancock Republican, his measure is intended to improve awareness of mental health issues on the part of the smaller agencies.

Granted, smaller agencies face obstacles that bigger agencies don’t. Though the 40-hour training is provided free, pulling an officer from the schedule for a week taxes the resources of rural and small-town forces. That said, the program has been adapted for use in rural areas of states such as Virginia and Texas, and police in those states surely could suggest practices that would work here, too.

The number of run-ins between police and the mentally ill is likely to keep rising as funding for mental health services keeps declining, putting officers in the position of acting as front-line care providers. Training in CIT tactics will give departments a tool without which law enforcement officials today cannot do their jobs.