SAFE SCHOOLS, SAFE KIDS: Crisis Intervention Training is a Community Asset

By Officer Mike Austin, Davies High School Resource Officer Michael.Austin@fargo.k12.nd.us

School Resource Officer Michael AustinIn June, local School Resource Officers (SRO’s) attended a week-long Crisis Intervention Training program. Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) is a community-wide effort to intervene with people who have a behavioral health issue such as mental illness, suicide or chemical dependency issues and who are in crisis. The training session was made up of area SRO’s, Cass County social workers, Sanford Hospital staff, Youth Works, and other Human Resources providers who serve youth in our community. This course was tailored to adolescents and the issues that they commonly face.

So what is CIT? It is a local effort to improve law enforcement’s response to people who are in crisis due to mental health or chemical dependency issues. The program stresses cooperation between local mental health, law enforcement, social services, individuals and families affected by mental illness. During the 40-hour CIT course, participants are taught skills on how to identify people in crisis, de-escalate techniques, and participated in role playing exercises.

Why do we need CIT for youth? There are many complex, multi-system breakdowns that have led to the criminalization of youth with mental health needs. One reason youth become unnecessarily entangled with the juvenile justice system is a lack of crisis intervention services in schools and communities. For some youth, contact with law enforcement is their first call for help and may be the first time they have the opportunity to get the help they need. For others, it is the last resort after exhausting all other options to accessing care. (Taken from National Alliance on Mental Illness website, www.nami.org.)

Many times a CIT officer’s response to a crisis situation will be very different than an officer without CIT. The traditional response has been to quickly get the situation under control, make an arrest and hand the subject off to the next agency and never look back. Officers with CIT are taught to slow things down by using de-escalation techniques. Many times officers will divert the subject from the legal system and try to find them the proper mental health agency that can help them deal with their issues. With the CIT approach, many times law enforcement finds that it improves relationships between them and the subjects who are in crisis. The person in crisis feels that Law Enforcement listened to them and really cared for their well-being, which helps develop trust for future encounters.

According to Lt. Jeff Skuza of the Fargo Police Department, “Because they are usually the first to confront a person in crisis, law enforcement and corrections officers factor the most prominently in the CIT program, but they train alongside other human services providers such as mental health, medical, detoxification programs, homeless shelters and advocates. Training together this way promotes de-escalation skills with the people they serve and team building among these groups. Across the country, CIT has improved relationships between these organizations, reduced the number of use of force incidents with law enforcement and promoted understanding and rapport between law enforcement and those with behavioral health issues and their families.”

Three CIT courses are held in Fargo per year. Currently, 32 Fargo Police officers are CIT-certified, 30 of them in the Patrol department.

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