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CIT Police Officers and the Mentally Disabled

Updated on January 19, 2017
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There seems to be an increase in the number of incidents involving the police and individuals with mental illness or intellectual disabilities. In most states, there has been a big push to downsize mental institutions and move to more community –based living settings. This change in philosophy means that more professionals in the community will need to be trained on how to assist people with mental illness. This includes law enforcement. More individuals with psychiatric disorders are being treated in the jail setting than ever before. This is largely due to the downsizing of mental institutions and the limited number of acute (short-term) psychiatric hospital beds available. There are also certain guidelines and criteria that need to be considered for a Temporary Detention Order (TDO) for placement in a psychiatric hospital. These requirements include:

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1. Posing imminent danger of self and others

2. Inability to make a decision to volunteer for treatment

3. Condition has deteriorated to the point that the individual cannot care for self

In many cases, individuals with mental illnesses have made poor choices and committed criminal offenses and wouldn’t meet the requirements for hospital placement. These individuals are then placed in jail settings which are not the most appropriate setting. These individuals are often placed in protective custody due to safety concerns. This situation also takes away resources that could be directed toward managing the rest of the facility. Some jails now have psychiatric units. However, individuals with mental illness are best served in a psychiatric hospital setting.

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The downsizing of training centers for the intellectually disabled have also led to an increase in the need for more community awareness. More individuals with intellectual disabilities are now being served in the community settings such as group homes and intermediate care facilities. As a result, the likelihood of behavioral outbursts in the community is also increased. It’s important for law enforcement be aware of these behaviors and be prepared to use the appropriate intervention.

The CIT program originally started in Memphis, Tennessee following an incident where a mentally disabled man was fatally shot by Tennessee police. There have been several fatal confrontations throughout the country that could have been avoided with more training and understanding of mental illness. Training in recognizing certain behaviors as well as verbal de-escalation techniques can help prevent these incidents from getting out of hand. Now police departments across the country are recognizing the need for officers that are specifically trained to work with the mentally ill.

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Training

CIT officers typically go through a 40 hour training process. The training is typically provided by human services professionals who are experienced in working with individuals with mental illness, substance abuse, and intellectual disabilities. These trainings provide officers with the skills needed to understand the mentally disabled and prevent unnecessary physical confrontations. The training consists of hands on activities and role playing and that allow the officers to see life from the prospective of someone with a mental illness. Part of the training involves the officers wearing headphones to simulate living with schizophrenia. Officers walk around with headphones with voices constantly speaking in their ears. Officers get an understanding of the frustration, confusion, and agitation associated with having this disorder. Officers also get a better understanding of some of the behaviors that may seem unusual or bizarre to the average person. Law enforcement is more sensitive to the needs of the mentally disabled with these ongoing trainings.

When officers know what to expect, they can use conflict resolution skills that limit the usage of physical or deadly force. CIT officers are trained to recognize when someone is in need of treatment instead of incarceration. They work closely with human services and emergency services to provide assessments to determine the most appropriate treatment options. CIT officers also establish a positive relationship with clients and service providers over time. Incidents can be immediately defused especially when there is a familiarity and rapport established between the client and the CIT officers.

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CIT officers cannot prevent every incident from becoming a physical altercation or a fatality. However, training and collaboration with human services can significantly reduce fatalities as well as assist people with obtaining the appropriate treatment and reduce the number of individuals that are incarcerated when they really need treatment. Every city should have assigned officers specifically trained to handle these situations. Any training expense would be offset by reduced fatalities, improved treatment, and increased awareness of mental health issues in the community.

Do you agree that every city should have CIT officers?

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© 2013 Martin D Gardner

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    • girlpower profile image

      girlpower 3 years ago from eugene oregon

      great informative hub, i worked twenty years with people with mental illness and having trained police officers and crisis intervention agencies that know how to interact with people who have serious mental illness issues. The city of Portland Oregon has a curriculum started by two female officers, which i believe they use to this day, i will try to look for their booklet and share with you their research and training specifications when interacting with anyone who is having a mental health crisis, it's a matter of life and death how police interact and how they interrogate this population to avoid a possible false admission of guilt due to the fact that they have learned to try to please authority figures and that they could possible incriminate themselves when in fact they didn't do the crime. How police treat our folks can make a difference in the outcome of an on-going crisis, and how the police with skills honed to this population 's special needs.

    • mdgardner profile image
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      Martin D Gardner 3 years ago from Virginia Beach

      Thanks. I agree that training could definitely be the difference between life and death. That's a great point about the interrogation process. They will admit to something just because they think it's what you want to hear (whether they did it or not). I would be interested in that training info. if you could find it.

    • Carola Finch profile image

      Carola Finch 3 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      We have a crisis team in our city but have proved to be useless. Without going into details, someone called them because a mentally ill person was threatening a person with a knife. The "crisis" team showed up five hours later. Big help. I have been involved in the mental illness field and have found a lot of ineptness out there.

    • mdgardner profile image
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      Martin D Gardner 3 years ago from Virginia Beach

      Carola Finch sorry to hear about that. In our area it's been helpful in reducing incidents of police brutality. The training should be mandatory for all officers but that's just my opinion.

    • Carola Finch profile image

      Carola Finch 3 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I agree that there should be mandatory. The police are in constant contact with people who are mentally ill, but many have no idea how to handle them. I am thankful for the officers I have met who have some understanding on these matters.

    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 3 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      This is a great idea. In the education world, those working with the population of students having mental illness are required to receive this type of training. It only increases the chances of these people getting the help that they need rather than ending up sitting in jail.

    • mdgardner profile image
      Author

      Martin D Gardner 3 years ago from Virginia Beach

      I'm a little late but thanks for the feedback. Jail is really not the place for our clients (in most cases).

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 3 years ago from The Caribbean

      You make good sense. The mentally ill are usually considered dangerous, when they are the ones most endangered. Thank you for dealing with this issue.

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