For up to one in four area residents, a small pin on the uniform of a law enforcement officer could be a life or death issue.
The Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) pin worn by increasing numbers of police officers represents specialized training to help work with people who have a mental illness or are in crisis. In any given year, that can mean up to one-fourth, approximately 87,000, of the residents of Clay, Platte and Ray counties. Others who may need help include people with Alzheimer’s or autism.
Master Police Officer Aric Anderson of the Kansas City Police presented details of CIT to the Aging and Mental Health Coalition of Kansas City North during their meeting Sept. 24 at Tri-County Mental Health Services. Anderson said that 500 Kansas City officers are now trained, and increasing numbers are also working in area police and sheriff’s departments.
The training is important. “The officers are now armed with knowledge,” Anderson explained. “They know about various mental illnesses and medications. We’ve learned to de-escalate a situation rather than do something that might cause stress or add to anxiety.”
CIT programming was developed in Memphis, Tenn., during the 1980s. A case involved a young man running through the downtown area with a knife, threatening suicide. Officers responded and fatally shot him. After settling a multimillion-dollar lawsuit, police there developed the nation’s first CIT program. Kansas City and other area departments followed in the 1990’s. Today, the program is part of the six-month training at the Kansas City Police Academy near Pleasant Valley.
Anderson acknowledged that many find CIT procedures a dramatic step from traditional policing, including many in law enforcement. CIT officers rarely make arrests and emphasize patience rather than confrontation. “But our jails are full anyway,” he noted. “Why not take them to the emergency room where they get medication and have a chance to get better?”
He stressed several things the public can keep in mind, starting with the 24-hour mental health line, 1-888-279-8188 (TTY or Voice: 1-800-380-3323). For older individuals or others dealing with dementia, wristbands that allow tracking are a good strategy. And if 911 needs to be called for a mental health related issue, ask the dispatcher to send a CIT officer if available.
“It’s an excellent program that’s making a positive difference,” he concluded. “It’s doing a lot of good for people.”
The coalition meets monthly with older adults and caregivers, including professionals who can receive training credits. For more information, contact Becky Franklin, LPC, at816.678.3036 or [email protected]; Tonya Rother at 816.877.0481 or [email protected]; or visit www.tri-countymhs.org.
Article by Dale Garrison of DGInform.com.