Imagine that your son or daughter has a history of mental illness with occasional, violent outbursts. What if one of those outbursts turns into a life-threatening situation for either you or your child? You may not want to think about it, but it’s a concern for parents of children who exhibit the symptoms of certain mental illnesses. If a day like that came, who would be there for you? How would you handle it? Fortunately, the immediate help you need may be closer than you think.
In San Antonio, we call upon our men and women in blue for a number of reasons, and now we can add mental health crises to the list, thanks largely to the San Antonio Police Department’s Crisis Intervention Training (CIT).
CIT programs are local initiatives designed to improve the way law enforcement and the community respond to people experiencing mental health crises. In the past, police officers may have been well equipped for a home intruder, a crime scene or a fender bender, but their skill set in relation to mental illness was limited. In fact, San Antonio Police Officer and Crisis Intervention Team member Ernest Stevens emphasizes, “We had absolutely no training in the police academy on how to deal with mental health disturbances.” Now with CIT, the goal is to get appropriate treatment for someone experiencing a crisis instead of taking them to jail or waiting up to 12 hours in a hospital emergency room. While they may still eventually take a patient to a hospital, this approach promotes treatment instead of tragedy or incarceration.
As the San Antonio Express News points out about the CIT officers, “Their first impulse is to listen. Dressed in plain clothes and driving an unmarked car... they speak in even, low tones and come across, quite literally, as the good cops. They're quick to affirm a person's right to just be.” This unintimidating and friendly approach is meaningful with someone who is in an acute state of distress. San Antonio Police Officer and Mental Health Unit Team Member William Kasberg demonstrates this method in his TEDx Salon talk available here. In the video, through using the crisis intervention principles of communication, non-force and de-escalation, he diverts a would-be tragedy with teenage girl threatening self-harm.
Since implementation, San Antonio’s Crisis Intervention Training program has seen many positive results, not only for the individuals experiencing crisis and their families, but also for the city itself. According to an NPR feature, “Today, the jails aren't full, and the city and county have saved $50 million over the past five years. The effort has focused on an idea called "smart justice" — basically, diverting people with serious mental illness out of jail and into treatment instead.”
San Antonio Police Chief William McManus says that Protecting the Alamo City is “more than just a slogan on our patrol cars. It’s a philosophy we take to heart and practice it in everything we do.” With programs like CIT, it’s evident that his statement isn’t mere lip-service but a true mission that’s lived out day-to-day.
While we hope you and your loved ones never have need for CIT officers, we do ask you to please spread the word about their availability. A simple call to 9-1-1 can dispatch CIT officers trained and willing to de-escalate the situation and assist in getting a hurting individual the treatment they need.