CIT Behavioral Health

Incidents: Police Support

Many emergencies demand police presence, but whether officers should be responding to behavioral health incidents is in question. Due to law enforcement’s 24/7 availability and the availability of mental health services, police officers often serve as first responders to these non-criminal emergencies. 

As a result of an increase in these types of interactions, there’s a nation-wide movement to improve these encounters. 

What Is A Crisis Intervention Team?

Law enforcement recognizes that when they are called for mental, behavioral, or social vulnerabilities – they’re not the experts in the field. Agencies across the nation are exploring the addition of crisis intervention teams (CIT). These teams respond to those with behavioral health needs to connect individuals to services and reduce the number of arrests for those with mental illness. 

These teams look different in each state. Often they’re a two-person team comprised of a paramedic and a social worker. This duo joins law enforcement on calls that are behavioral health-related. In this co-responder model, law enforcement offers backup support, only as requested. 

A program in Oregon called CAHOOTS sends crisis responders to behavioral health incidents. Although the program is funded by the police, law enforcement only responds when the CIT calls. During the course of this program they found that out of 24,000 calls, they needed police backup only 150 times. And in Denver, CO the police co-respond with a paramedic and social worker for behavioral health emergencies.

Programs like these provide a model for what CIT can look like. In both examples, law enforcement allows behavioral health experts to take the lead. 

What Qualities Do Crisis Responders Need?

At the Law Enforcement and Public Health Conference, held in 2021, a panel of experts developed a set of qualifications that crisis responders should possess. The panel included emergency medicine, mental health, and law enforcement professionals who collectively agreed upon the following:  

Crisis Responders will…

  • Foster feelings of security
  • Use empathy and active listening to engage everyone at the scene
  • Quickly assess and connect individuals in crisis to available community resources
  • Use de-escalation strategies 
  • Manage emergent risks 
  • Help create a crisis plan and conduct a follow-up

7 Challenges To Successful Creation Of CIT

There’s a collective belief that change is needed in the area of behavioral health and police response. While the need for change is evident, it’s unclear what the ideal crisis response program should look like. These barriers must be explored for the success of future programs. Here are just some of the challenges facing CIT: 

  1. A lack of mental health professionals to fill the roles.
  2. Mental health providers may have a hard time relating to their clientele.
  3. Should responders have a behavioral health degree? Higher-level training requirements may limit the candidate pool. 
  4. In order to ensure equitable entry for those with lived experience the role could not be over-professionalized. 
  5. Communities served by these programs may have negative views of social workers and law enforcement making it difficult to garner support for these types of programs. 
  6. Communities in need often have a distrust of new programs and initiatives.
  7. Law enforcement has a learned belief that the mentally ill are more dangerous making relinquishing control to CIT a challenge. 

Looking Ahead 

In locations where Crisis Intervention Teams exist, the results have been positive. Reporting a reduced use of force as well as far fewer arrests. Officers have also reported an improved understanding of the needs of those involved in behavioral health events. 

An unintended benefit of CITs is the reduced costs associated with arrest, prosecution, and incarceration. 

In determining the best use and implementation of this type of program it is important to look at data to identify the areas that might be best served. By utilizing data to inform best practices police departments can make better decisions regarding calls and areas where CIT teams may be better suited. IDEA Analytics has the training and expertise to help organizations and departments optimize the data they may already have and help implement data collection strategies moving forward. 

CIT teams and government agencies benefit from a more informed decision making process based on the historical incident data which can help predict future responses and may even help interrupt the cycle.

Enthusiasm for these innovative programs continues to gain traction. In 2021, the US House of Representatives was presented with two bills requesting billions of dollars to staff behavioral health CIT. Funding for these programs will only increase program prevalence, helping to answer questions that will determine the trajectory of successful CIT in the future. 

Give IDEA Analytics a call today to explore your agency’s effectiveness at meeting your community’s behavioral health needs.