Mayor De Blasio Pledges to Implement Crisis Intervention-Team Model
By Carla Rabinowitz, Community Organizer, Community Access, Inc.
Police Can and Should Handle People in Crisis with More Care
Three years ago Community Access and a few organizations formed the Communities for Crisis Intervention Teams in NYC (CCITNYC) to improve relations between the New York Police Department (NYPD) and New Yorkers with mental illness.
Our goal is to encourage the police to implement a new model of police training where police can identify someone in crisis and respond in a way that de-escalates the crisis, and recognizes that the person in crisis is mentally ill and not a criminal. We now have more than 75 organizations supporting us.
Fortunately, the mayor shares our vision and will create two centers where police can drop off people in crisis and will train 5,500 of the city’s 35,000 officers on identifying mental health symptoms and de-escalating crisis situations.
This is part of the mayor’s new Task Force on Criminal Justice and Behavioral Health. Other areas of change include post-booking diversion, CIT-like training for correction officers, and more help when people leave prison and re-enter the community. In all, the mayor has pledged $130 million for this effort.
A CIT (Crisis Intervention Team) is a method of policing that provides officers with the tools they need to respond to incidents involving people in emotional distress. CITs ensure safe and respectful interactions between mental health recipients and law enforcement.
CITs require coordination between the public health system, police departments and the mental health community. Police need a place to quickly drop off people in crisis and return to other police calls. This is why the mayor’s centers are so important. Without them, police could sit for hours in emergency rooms with each person in crisis.
CITs are needed because the NYPD responds to 150,000 calls of those in mental health crisis a year. They call these calls EDPs (Emotionally Disturbed Person calls). And today NYPD officers receive little training on how to handle these calls.
So what happens? A family member or a housing agency calls for an ambulance if a person is in crisis. Police show up and go into their routine training model of “Command and Control,” proving police are in control. Police may start shouting commands or say to the mental health recipient “do you want to do this the easy way or the hard way?”
Right away the encounter escalates, and the mental health recipient who is in crisis becomes more upset. Sometimes all that happens is a long wait at a hospital or city jail. Sometimes, these encounters take a turn for the worse. In the last two years there have been several fatalities and beatings of mental health recipients by the NYPD. There are also the financial costs.
New York City has set aside $674 million to cover claimants' cases against it and expect to pay $782 million in 2016. Police misconduct, injury and civil rights allegations against the NYPD make up more than 1/3 of claims against the city. Just one of those shootings could cost a city millions of dollars.
The benefits of a CIT program are:
1. Less time for officers in between crisis calls. Chicago reduced this down time from eight hours to 30 minutes;
2. Fewer injuries to police and mental health recipients. San Antonio, which has trained 92% of officers, has not seen one use-of-force case since 2008. Houston, which trained 50% of its 5,200 officers, also reported a drop in cases of force;
3. Improved perception of police by mental health recipients and staff at mental health agencies. Many times families or mental health providers are the ones who call the police. They need to know they can trust how police will treat the people they are helping to care for;
4. Law enforcement’s better view of mental health recipients and better confidence working with mental health recipients;
5. More positive media relations for the NYPD and the mayor. In response to one recent police shooting of a person in crisis, the mayor said that he was going to put new training into place to better help address these incidents; and
6. Lends prestige to NYC. Before the mayor’s plan was released, NYC was the only one of the seven largest cities in the USA without CIT training of police.
Some cities like Houston and Los Angeles have social workers riding along with police. Houston has the social worker co-responder model, but does more. Houston trains all of its officers in the traditional CIT 40-hour training and has a telephone line for officers who are not trained in CIT to call in and get advice when the officer is handling an EDP call.
CITS are a win-win for police, the mental health community and the general public. I am excited that the mayor has embraced better training of police and more interactions with mental health community leaders.