CIT Training Bridges the Gap Between Law Enforcement and the Mental Health Community

With long-standing budget shortfalls in Illinois, accessible and affordable mental health resources have become sparse, with availability varying widely around the state. Consequently, when emergency services are contacted during a mental health crisis, law enforcement officers are now the most frequent first responders. This, of course, can be a frightening experience for any family. Fortunately, many law enforcement officers around the state go through training certified by the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board, called Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training. 

Illinois Training Programs

CIT training is an in-depth 40-hour class that provides intensive training for recognizing and addressing individuals who have a mental illness or other behavioral disability. Goals for the program include:

  • Enabling law enforcement officers to identify why an individual may be in crisis
  • Providing tools for de-escalation
  • Educating law enforcement about appropriate community resources available that may be more appropriate than incarceration
  • Connecting community resource leadership with law enforcement

According to the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board, topics of focus are:

  • Mental illness signs and symptoms
  • Child and adolescent issues
  • Geriatric issues
  • Co-occurring disorders – substance abuse
  • Verbal de-escalation and tactical response
  • Returning veterans and PTSD
  • Risk assessment and crisis intervention skills
  • Law enforcement response and legal issues
  • Medical conditions and psychotropic medications
  • Autism and intellectual and developmental disabilities
  • Community resources

Fostering Relationships

One of the key components of this training program is ensuring that those who have lived experience with mental illness are included throughout the training process. 

Officers have the opportunity to participate in discussions with individuals living with mental illness and their family members. Pat Doyle, Founder and President of Vision for Change, a consulting organization that partners with CIT training programs noted:

“This is a valuable experience for law enforcement. These presentations and discussions, by describing the reality of living with mental illness, change attitudes and break down stereotypes in several ways: 

First, many of the officers in the room don’t have the opportunity to see individuals from calls when they are doing well–only when they are in crisis. It is important for them to hear first-hand how directing people out of the criminal system, and instead connecting them with the appropriate community services, helps individuals grow and thrive. 

Second, it gives officers a chance to interact directly by asking questions on ways to communicate with them in crisis.

All of this is critical to ensure that people living with mental illness are seen in a three-dimensional manner.”

To close out the training, officers are taken through a series of roleplays of realistic scenarios that may be encountered on the job. While these tactics are presented in relation to mental health issues, they provide de-escalation skills that can be implemented across a broad spectrum of scenarios officers face on the job.

The CIT Model at Work

Doyle notes that the use of CIT was never meant to stop after training. To truly be successful, law enforcement needs the partnership of the community around them, from hospitals and dispatchers to universities, government agencies and libraries. 

Police departments are hard at work to make that happen. Kasey Franco, Director of Training and Education for NAMI Chicago, noted that in addition to mental health information and support from NAMI, the Chicago Police Department CIT training sessions are led by members from local community organizations. By bringing key community organizations into the room, officers have the opportunity to immediately begin cultivating relationships with these key stakeholders.

Additionally in 2014, the Park Ridge Police Department, recognizing the need for community involvement, secured a grant with the US Department of Justice to “craft and pilot a whole-community approach to mental health that extends and connects efforts beyond CIT training.” During that time, with the help of a community task force, they were able to create a community resource guide available to individuals who may be in need of services, successfully trained 100% of their sworn staff in CIT training and officers found they had better de-escalation tools to utilize on the job on an ongoing basis.

Troy Siewert, Police Lieutenant and CIT Coordinator for the Orland Park Police Department talked about the positive impact of knowingly changing lives over the past five years through the CIT model. “What a great opportunity this has been by implementing CIT. We are in a position to give back to the community. There are so many people in our community who need mental health services but don’t know how to access them. When you can remove obstacles to needed care, you help them on their road to recovery and reduce the need for police activity at the same time.”

The Orland Park department has compiled a comprehensive book of local resources–but the officers don’t stop there. Through a partnership forged with Trinity Services, if officers need their support on a call, Trinity is available 24/7 to be on scene within 45 minutes. While that step is rarely needed, officers do provide a referral form to Trinity, who will outreach to the party in crisis within 48 hours. Trinity then offers six free sessions, with the first session also typically within that first 48 hours. A police contact is also sometimes assigned to follow up to check in and ensure that the individual or family member has the resources they need.

Siewert said, “We remove the obstacles. It is often difficult for someone in crisis to make that call for help, so we have someone to call them. And, we remove wait times and finances from the equation.”

What Can You Do?

  • If you or a loved one are at risk of requiring intervention from law enforcement, reach out to your local police department during a stable period to introduce yourselves. If the department has a social worker or CIT coordinator accessible, talk with them about the most effective ways to interface with law enforcement should it be needed. 
  • Become an advocate to keep this work moving forward. Support funding for CIT training for both law enforcement and community organizations, something that has been quietly declining.