Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training is a specialized police curriculum that aims to reduce the risk of serious injury or death during an emergency interaction between persons dealing with a mental health crisis and the police officers who respond. This training has become critically important throughout the country as police officers continue to respond to these types of incidents which can rapidly evolve into dangerous situations for the officers and the subjects.
CIT began in response to an incident that occurred on September 24, 1987 in Memphis, Tennessee. Police encountered a 27-year-old male on the street outside his mother's house as they responded to a 911 emergency dispatch called in by the mother. The son had a reported history of mental illness and substance abuse issues including recently using cocaine. He was reported to be cutting himself and threatening people with a knife. The male did not respond to officers’ verbal orders and lunged at them; tragically, the individual was shot multiple times by officers.
In response to this incident, community organizers, civil administrators, the University of Memphis, University of Tennessee, and the Memphis Police Department came together to organize the Memphis Police Department’s Crisis Intervention Team. Its recommendations became the model for CIT, with a goal to reduce lethality during police encounters with people with mental and/or substance abuse disorders and to divert such people, when appropriate, away from the criminal justice system and into the civil treatment system. Due to the extensive training commitment required, most police departments have less than 20 percent of their officers trained as CIT personnel.
To become a CIT officer in Colorado, officers participate in an intensive 40-hour training class, which focuses on intensive role-playing exercises where professional actors are used to play the part of the person(s) experiencing a mental health crisis. The training also includes site visits to local mental health centers and treatment facilities, meetings with mental health professionals, family members of mentally ill people, and clients of mental health services. Many officers who have participated in CIT training report it is some of the most challenging, and rewarding, training they have experienced during their career.
The Littleton Police Department (LPD) has made CIT training and certification a top priority. LPD currently has 80 percent of sworn personnel and 75 percent of dispatchers certified in CIT. The department is working toward its goal that all personnel, sworn and civilian, who have regular contact with the public be CIT certified. Whenever practical, CIT certified personnel respond to incidents involving individuals experiencing mental health crises. Upon contact with the subject, officers use their training to attempt to de-escalate the situation while utilizing proper communication and tactics to determine the nature of the crisis, what can be done to safely resolve it, and to provide the person in crisis with access to long-term community services as needed. Many times, CIT interactions are resolved through a voluntary visit to a hospital or mental health facility. In some cases, however, if the person poses a threat to him/herself or others, or is gravely disabled, the person may be placed on an emergency hold for evaluation by a mental health professional. Under these emergency circumstances officers have the authority to take the person into custody to safely transport him/her to the hospital for evaluation by an appropriate mental health provider.
In addition to CIT trained officers, LPD partners with the AllHealth Network for a Co-Responder Program. AllHealth Network is a not-for-profit organization that provides mental health assistance as well as substance abuse treatment for clients of all ages. The AllHealth Network has over 150 clinical providers and more than 25 psychiatrists and nurse practitioners. They operate nine metro area facilities with seven of them located in the City of Littleton.
Working together, LPD and AllHealth partner in a Co-Responder Program whereby a certified mental health clinician rides along with LPD patrol officers during their shift. Currently, an AllHealth Co-Responder provides coverage with LPD patrol officers 40 hours per week. The Co-Responder assists officers on scene with assessing persons experiencing mental health crises and can provide immediate access to resources for the subject directly from the scene of the incident. Research and experience have shown that the sooner access to assistance services is made available, the greater the likelihood of long-term success in addressing mental health issues. Historically, officers’ options were limited when addressing persons in mental health crises, with many people being jailed or transported to a local hospital emergency room. The Co-Responder Program has resulted in a reduction in the number of persons arrested/cited in relation to these types of incidents as well as a reduction in the strain on local hospital emergency rooms for non-critical mental health incidents. Instead of jail or the hospital, officers and Co-Responders can now transport most subjects to an AllHealth Network facility to receive immediate assessment and treatment options.
In 2020, LPD responded to 485 calls that involved mental health crises. On average, that means over 40 calls per month involve LPD officers interacting with people who are needing CIT intervention and assistance. Through our commitment to CIT and partnership with the AllHealth Network in the Co-Responder Program, LPD continues to provide exceptional service to the growing number of community members who are experiencing mental health crises.