COLUMBIA — Since graduating 51 police officers from Crisis Intervention Team training in May, local law enforcement agencies have started putting their new skills to use. The Columbia Police Department has already received 91 reports of CIT training in action, averaging about two reports a day, Capt. Dianne Bernhard said.
The CIT model is a nationally recognized program to prepare officers to better handle situations involving people with mental illnesses. Through 40 hours of training, officers learn from mental health agencies, officers from other departments with active CIT programs, and people with mental illnesses who have been convicted of a crime.
Columbia Police officer Chris Boyle, a CIT graduate, said the point of the training was to change the officers’ perspective and make them aware of the resources available to help people with mental illnesses.
“A lot of times, police and some of these mental health agencies come at the same thing in different ways," Boyle said. "The training tried to parallel us to come to the same goal."
In order to help police and mental health agencies align, the local CIT program has an executive board made up of experts from many fields involved in mental illness issues.
The members include representatives from the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Family Court, Boone County Legal Services, University Hospital Security, the Department of Mental Health, the Mental Health Court, the Columbia Police Department, MU Police and the Boone County Sheriff's Department.
Bernhard, who spearheads the CIT program for the Police Department, said she has heard positive feedback from both mental health agencies and officers who have not received CIT training.
“Patrol officers who weren’t trained have been thankful for having a CIT officer on-hand,” she said.
During training, officers had the opportunity to speak with patients from the Biggs Forensic Center – the only maximum-security unit within the Missouri Department of Mental Health. The facility treats inmates with the goal of moving them to a lower-security facility.
Boyle said the Biggs patients conveyed to the officers that they want to be “'treated with respect. Say please and thank you. Basically treat us like we’re human.'”
Boyle thinks his training has already been helpful, as he has used it in situations ranging in severity from domestic disputes to attempted suicides.
On one occasion, he responded to a call involving a woman with a mental illness who had assaulted her sister, threatened someone with scissors and was still very upset. By talking alone, he was able to get the woman to open the door, sit on the couch and work toward resolving the situation. The best situation for the woman was to go to an off-site residential facility. Boyle left the home with a hug.
“Everything worked out text-book for me because of my CIT training,” he said.