CIT improves police response to mental health crises

John Christensen
The Crisis Intervention Training participants are, from left: training leader Don Kamin Ph.D., YCSO Sgt. Frank Ryan, Dispatcher Brian Murphy, Corrections Officer Sgt. James Stenzel, Deputy Kyle Rayburn, Corrections Officer Sgt. David Smith, Dispatcher Dusty Blumbergs, NMS Security Officer Mike Alden from Keuka College, and Yates County Community Services Director George Roets.

Seven local law enforcement figures received certificates of Crisis Intervention Training at the Feb. 14 closing ceremony after completing a five-day class for law enforcement, conducted at Keuka College. The Crisis Intervention Team is a group of experienced law enforcement officers who receive additional training in mental health-related issues, preparing them so when they are the first responders to an incident, they have the knowledge, skills, and support to de-escalate situations and divert individuals from the criminal and juvenile justice systems when appropriate.

The graduates are: Sgt. Frank Ryan and Deputy Kyle Rayburn from Yates County Sheriff’s Office Road Patrol; Dusty Blumbergs and Brian Murphy from YCSO Dispatch-911; Sgt. James Stenzel and Sgt. David Smith from YCSO Corrections; and Mike Alden from NMS Security for Keuka College.

Don Kamin Ph.D., a clinical psychologist who collaborates with law enforcement, mental health system representatives, and other community partners, led the training. As the Director of the Institute for Police, Mental Health, and Community Collaboration, Kamin is working with the N.Y.S. Office of Mental Health to develop Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) programs across the state. 

Early this year, Yates County was selected to receive technical assistance and funding to develop a CIT program with resources through the N.Y.S. Senate and allocated to the Office of Mental Health.

Yates County Community Services Director George Roets says, “The training is aimed at reducing the need to use the county jail for those with behavioral health issues, increase the use of the crisis intervention team from Clifton Springs Hospital, divert appropriate cases from the criminal justice system, identify and link individuals with community services before they interact with law enforcement, and modify current processes.”

Roets says a local planning group is working to implement recommendations from a day-long “Intercept Mapping Exercise” held last fall, which assessed current practices and developed recommendations for changes to the current systems. “The CIT training provided was essential to the local change process,” says Roets.

What is CIT?

Police officers are often called upon to respond to crisis situations, sometimes involving people experiencing a mental illness. Historically, police responding to these calls often lacked any specialized training or knowledge in dealing with the mentally ill and their families. According to Kamin, CIT seeks to bridge this gap between police response and mental health care by forming a partnership with behavioral health and human services professionals, consumers, their families and law enforcement to develop and implement safer methods for resolving explosive crisis situations. 

CIT benefits: 

• Increased Safety: Education on mental health issues increases safety for officers and citizens through specialized tactics, techniques, and communication training.

• Improved Access to Treatment: CIT programs create relationships between law enforcement and mental health services to get people quickly transferred to behavioral health treatment, while reducing the burden on police. Speedy transfers to treatment save law enforcement time and money, and reduce the need for costly emergency psychiatric services.

• Diversion: People with mental illnesses can be diverted into the behavioral health system for community treatment, when appropriate. The linking of individuals to appropriate treatment frequently has a positive impact on fostering recovery and reducing recidivism.

• Collaboration: The CIT partnerships and relationships with healthcare professionals, consumers, and related organizations improve collaborative opportunities and programs can help address law enforcement concerns/problems through a community-based policing model.

• Professionalism: CIT increases professionalism and community confidence in law enforcement agencies.

According to CIT International, the combination of training, collaboration, and improvements in accessing community behavioral health systems result in measurable effects on reducing incarcerations, links to critical long-term treatment, and criminal justice cost savings, thus improving the quality of life for all in the community.