At our meeting tonight, we had the privilege of having Becky from Lutheran Family Services come and speak to our group. She spoke with us about the Crisis Intervention Training program, or CIT. CIT training is training provided to first responders, to give them more information about handling situations involving a mental health crisis.
Becky is a retired police officer. She was a school resource teacher, and handled student issues daily. One day, she had a “perfect” student come to see her – good grades, school clubs, etc – she was pregnant, by her “bad boy” boyfriend, and wanted help telling her parents. Seemed straightforward, but the situation turned out to be the tip of the iceberg, with family chaos erupting at the disclosure. Becky felt she had been overconfident and underprepared to handle the situation and that she would have handled the situation better if she’d had resources and services available to help the student and her family. So her boss sent her to CIT training, which provided an overview of mental health situations with adults and children, deescalation skills, communication skills, and knowledge of resources available to help people in these situations.
Becky became involved in CIT training, first at the local, then at that national level, lobbying for support and training money to train more first responders. Recognition that the law has criminalized having mental health issues, often ending up with people with minor offenses ending up in jail without mental health care. Questioning why people in a mental health crisis are often transported in handcuffs, leading people to believe that they have been arrested, rather than being taken to where they can receive care. An unfortunate situation involved an elderly man that was self-harming, being treated roughly by responders, then shot and killed, by responders not trained to handle the situation in a better way.
Education, for both first responders, and the community, about the resources available can help. One of the changes that has happened is establishment of the “988” mental health crises phone number. Like “911” for other types of emergencies, this line is staffed by people ready to help people experiencing a mental health crises. There is the possibility that a unit of responders including a therapist and peer support specialist could be formed, and could respond to those calls without involving police officers, but there are hurdles to that happening.
What we can do now – If a call to 911 is needed, telling the dispatcher that a CIT officer is needed, can lead to those trained officers, either alone or with other first responders, being sent to handle the issue. What happens is, the dispatcher will put out a call for an officer with CIT training to respond to the issue. Currently, 988 cannot directly contact 911 emergency services to engage resources, so that is why we’d ask for that when we called 911. Once it is determined what resources are needed, the officer will call for the mobile crisis unit. Mobile crisis response is available 24×7 here in Omaha, and the behavioral health unit is available on weekdays.
One of our members has experienced younger officers being more open to training for these situations. Since discussion of mental health has become more open in our communities, hopefully more officers will become trained to handle these situations as well as possible.
We appreciate Becky coming out to share this information with us!