Crisis Intervention Training Arms Police With Tools For Crisis Calls

Police are often called upon to help people in crisis. When they receive a call, police aren’t always sure what they will be walking into and this heightens their alert for potential safety concerns. The sense of foreboding provoked by these unknowns might cause any officer to arrive on the scene in a suspicious, confrontational mindset. This had been the experience of Officer Alicea Ledbetter of the Alameda Police Department when responding to crisis calls. After all, police officers primarily are trained at the academy to deal with criminal threats, not people in a mental health crisis.

“I think there’s a gap in training regarding how to handle crisis calls at the academy level,” says Officer Ledbetter. “We get very good training at the academy, but we don’t necessarily leave with enough understanding and tools to be as effective as we can be on mental health calls.”

Today, Officer Ledbetter approaches mental health crisis calls more confidently with greater understanding and awareness of the experiences people in crisis are dealing with. She is also better equipped to link individuals to mental health resources in the community.

“CIT helped change the way I respond to mental health crisis calls,” said Officer Ledbetter, who graduated from the program in 2011. “I now approach these situations with a partnership attitude when possible. I’m geared more toward problem-solving and prevention than I was in the past.”

The “CIT” Officer Ledbetter refers to is the Crisis Intervention Training program sponsored by Alameda County Behavioral Health Care Services (BHCS) in partnership with the Oakland Police Department as a service to the community. It’s based on the nationally known “Memphis” model that has shown great promise in improving the police role in mental health interventions. The 40-hour, weeklong training delves deeply into tactics and tools for responding to various types of crisis calls. De-escalation is among the many techniques practiced in the classroom. A two-day version of the training has also been implemented for dispatchers.

In addition to teaching approaches to crisis intervention, CIT puts officers and dispatchers face-to-face with family members and individuals who have lived experience with mental health issues. These individuals and families help humanize the experience for law enforcement personnel, which in turn helps foster a sense of trust that sometimes has been lacking between police officers and the mental health community.

Officer Ledbetter feels listening to family stories at CIT has made a difference in her approach to mental health crisis calls. “It is a great opportunity to have a conversation and positive interaction outside of crisis mode situations and goes a long way in building partnerships for problem-solving and prevention,” Officer Ledbetter said. “Police officers are geared toward responding to threats. CIT has helped me learn to differentiate between a criminal threat and a person in crisis. Once I know what I’m dealing with, I can use de-escalation techniques to hopefully resolve the situation peacefully.”

Thanks to the sponsorship of BHCS and their partnership with the Oakland Police Department, CIT training is available to any police officer or dispatcher in Alameda County who wants to take it. “Communities can encourage their local police department to send more officers and dispatchers to CIT,” Officer Ledbetter says. She wholeheartedly recommends the training to her peers. “It definitely has changed the way I view mental health,” she said. “I think CIT benefits not just law enforcement, but the entire community.”


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