Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training is a nationwide program available to law enforcement officers that teaches not only techniques for handling difficult or dangerous situations that may be caused or exacerbated by mental illnesses, but also the respect and understanding necessary to help citizens undergoing such crises.
The training is part of the services offered by NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and was facilitated by NAMI CIT administrator Pat Strode, NAMI CIT regional coordinator Bonnie Moore and Georgia Bureau of Investigation CIT administrator Debbie Shaw. Part of the success of the CIT training program is its ability to create collaboration between law enforcement officers and mental illness advocates as the officers learn how best to help an often-overlooked group of people when they may be at their most vulnerable.
Crises that the CIT program teaches officers to de-escalate include situations involving a person with a mental illness who has gone off his or her medication or who may be lost, anxious or potentially dangerous to themselves or to others.
The week-long program, the first of its kind in Walker County, brought together nearly two dozen law enforcement officers of all stripes – including sheriff’s deputies, police and parole officers – for seminars in conversational technique and simulation training, plus meetings with members of Lookout Mountain Community Services’ day program at Cornerstone. Lookout Mountain Community Services, based in LaFayette, caters to area citizens with mental illnesses or disabilities and run a daytime peer-support group whose members were glad to share their stories and their fears with the participating law enforcement officers.
Most of the fears revealed by Cornerstone consumers revolved around preconceived notions about dealings with law enforcement; some had had bad experiences in the past, but most were, as a part of their illness, simply terrified or given high anxiety by the thought of even speaking with an officer. In response to this, part of the officers’ training was to reassure citizens in need that they were there as a friendly presence and that they had been through crisis intervention training and were therefore more sympathetic to the needs of someone with mental illness.
Similarly, paradigms shifted on the officers’ end as well, as hearing from members of an oft-misunderstood section of society helped to change what may have been some preconceived notions on their part.
“I’ve learned a lot,” said Walker County sheriff’s deputy Terence Hambrick, who was wowed after just the first two days of training. “It’s really changed my perspective.”
For many, the highlight of the program was the simulation training, during which the officers role-played against the coordinators, acting out how they would respond in field situations involving, for instance, a person causing a public disturbance or a woman threatening to jump off a bridge.
Though this is the first time CIT training has been offered in Walker County, participants and coordinators alike hope it will not be the last, and have expressed hopes that every officer in the county will eventually be CIT-certified.
“I think everyone should do it,” said Hambrick.
For more information on mental illnesses, NAMI or the CIT training, visit nami.org.