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Media > Newsletters > Law Enforcement Bulletin > February 2014 > CIT Helps Those in Crisis, Enhances Community Safety

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CIT Helps Those in Crisis, Enhances Community Safety

Bob has schizophrenia. Though he had just been released from a mental health hospital, he skipped his follow-up appointment and instead went to a grocery store, where he was shaking and harassing customers. His unruly behavior would typically have gotten him arrested. But, the officers who responded to the call took a different approach. They talked to Bob. They found out he hadn’t been taking his medications, and they got him to agree to meet with his case manager. The officers took Bob back to the hospital and then to his home for his medications. At Bob’s home, the situation escalated when he refused to take his medication and went for a knife.

This situation could have taken a tragic and fatal turn at that moment. But instead, the officers talked to Bob and convinced him to put down the knife. They didn’t need to draw their weapons or threaten him. They just talked. Bob was transported safely back to the hospital, where he was admitted, and he again began to stabilize his illness.
Dr. S.R. Thorward of the Ohio Attorney General’s Task Force on Criminal Justice and Mental Illness shared this true story at a recent task force meeting. What could have been a fatal outcome was avoided because of the specialized Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training the officers had completed just six days earlier. The officers were able to identify Bob’s symptoms, offer help, and talk him into seeking treatment. Even at the end, when Bob refused to cooperate, the officers safely transported him back to the hospital. Instead of putting a mentally unstable man in jail, the officers got Bob the treatment he needed.
CIT is supported by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and made available in Ohio through NAMI Ohio. To help more officers receive the training, the Attorney General Office’s has provided NAMI Ohio with $116,000 for CIT training expenses. NAMI Ohio reports that more than 6,700 Ohio law enforcement officers — about 29 percent of all full-time officers — have received the training since it was first offered in the state in 2000.
Peace officers often are the first responders to a mental health crisis. Patrol officers estimate that 5 to 10 percent of the calls they respond to involve a person or persons with mental illness, according to Dr. Mark Munetz, a mental health professional involved in developing Ohio’s CIT program. These individuals can sometimes be uncooperative or dangerous, especially if their illness is not taken into account. They’re often in and out of jail and draining important resources — and perhaps your patience. So why would you want to invest more of your time in learning how to handle situations involving people with mental illness?
The answer is simple: CIT is the best investment law enforcement and a community can make in responding to individuals with mental health issues. The fact is, CIT saves lives, including law enforcement officers’ lives.
“CIT is critical safety training,” Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said. “It protects officers, it protects the public, and it increases the safety of our communities.”
CIT also allows those with mental illness to get help sooner, rather than later, before a situation becomes a crisis. Finally, it saves law enforcement time and money because it reduces the number of re-arrests and officer dispatches to mental health situations. If you arrest a mentally ill person over and over, you’re just repeating the scenario and hoping for a different outcome. But if you can help them get treatment, you might be able to solve the problem for good.
Think of CIT as an officer safety tool. That’s how Sgt. Michael Yohe of the Akron Police Department sees it. As an officer on the night shift, Yohe frequently responded to calls involving mental health issues. After taking CIT training, he assumed the role of coordinator of the department’s CIT program. Thirteen years later, Yohe still coordinates CIT efforts and now teaches and speaks about CIT.
“It allows officers the experience and insight to predict; the verbal abilities to de-escalate, distract, or delay; and finally, the availability of tools that give them the upper hand to control the conflict before coming to violence or ending in tragedy,” Yohe said.
These safety tools are taught in a 40-hour CIT training course in which officers learn about mental illness and how to recognize the symptoms and signs. This can help officers better predict behavior and the reactions of individuals with mental illness, giving them an upper hand in responding to and diverting a crisis. When an officer recognizes that mental illness is clouding a person’s judgment, he or she can see the individual as a “sick person” and better understand that person’s behaviors and reactions.
CIT also covers psychiatric medications, the local mental health system, and methods of treatment. It includes role-playing scenarios to learn de-escalation skills and covers weapons and defensive tactics useful for de-escalating a dangerous situation.
CIT is not a “quick fix” to meet a community’s mental health needs. But with dedication and commitment from law enforcement, it has the potential to make a profound impact on the lives of those living with mental illness, helping to facilitate recovery rather than incarceration.
To learn more about training in your area, contact NAMI Ohio or your local NAMI affiliate. You can also search the University of Memphis CIT Center’s national directory, at the link below, to find the CIT program nearest you.
Complementary OPOTA Courses
The Attorney General’s Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy (OPOTA) offers several courses that incorporate CIT concepts, including Interacting with and De-escalating the Special Needs Population, a free, six-hour regional course; Law Enforcement Communication and Physical Control of Special Populations, a free, two-day regional course; and De-escalating Mental Health Crises, a one-hour course available online at eOPOTA.
In addition, the Ohio Peace Officer Training Commission recently updated 16 hours of crisis intervention training in the peace officer basic training and corrections basic training curricula. While the topic was already covered in both programs, it was updated in 2013 to better reflect CIT concepts and techniques.
For Grant Information
For more information on CIT grants, contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office (Michelle Gillcrist at or D. Michael Sheline at
Related Links
Ohio Police Officer Training Academy Course Catalog
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) – National CIT Information
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) – Ohio CIT Information
Ohio Criminal Justice Coordinating Center of Excellence
The Attorney General Task Force on Criminal Justice and Mental Illness
Christie Limbert
Assistant Attorney General