Police Training and Community Diversion Centers
By Carla Rabinowitz, Advocacy Coordinator, Community Access
Progress Report on Implementing Crisis Intervention Teams in NYC
Relations between the mental health community and the New York Police Department (NYPD) are improving through work to implement Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training for officers. CIT is a method of policing that prompts police officers to use appropriate tools to respond to incidents involving people in emotional distress. CITs ensure safe and respectful interactions between people experiencing a mental health crisis and law enforcement.
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 People calls). Progress has been made to train officers in effective handling of mental health crisis, but more must be done to impact NYPD response methods and build opportunities for diversion from the jail and hospital system.
Many officers now still respond to EDPs in a command and control approach based on their standard training. The primary way NYPD officers still try to gain control of a situation is by getting compliance from the person in distress by using force.
But that is all changing due to the work of Community Access and other members of the Communities for Crisis Intervention Team Coalition (CCIT), www.CCITNYC.org .
The NYPD has agreed to train 5,500 officers in a 36-hour training that supports police personnel in understanding the tools they need to use to effectively address those in mental health distress. So far, 300 NYPD officers have been trained using the model pioneered by the city of Memphis, TN in 1988.
But CIT is more than just training of police. CITs require coordination between the public health system, police departments, and the mental health community.
In addition to training, the NYPD—under the guidance of the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene—is creating a small demonstration project pairing 10 teams of social workers and NYPD to work together. These teams will ride to shelters and other locations together as a co-response team.
The NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) invited a few mental health service recipients to speak to the newly hired social workers on the co-response team. One of our main priorities continues to be that DOHMH and the NYPD go further and hire actual mental health peers to advise police.
The group of mental health leaders invited to the process also advised the co-response team that when they need to take a mental health recipient to the hospital, they might encounter a lot of resistance. Some mental health recipients, especially when they are in distress, will object to being taken to a hospital. Some recipients have had traumatic experiences at hospitals or just do not like being locked up. We advised the social workers that they will need to improve their de-escalation techniques for those people for whom a hospital is a place they dread.
The recipients at the planning meeting also advised the social work co-response teams that offering something to eat or drink or a blanket is a good gateway to a conversation with a person in distress.
The team also indicated to the co-response team the importance of being careful from where they receive information about the person in distress. We explained that talking to neighbors about a mental health recipient might not be the best idea as community members often harbor prejudice against mental health recipients. We also suggested that the co-response team be similarly cautious in talking with family members; some of us believed family members could offer information on the person in distress, but others felt family members could be the triggers for a mental health recipient, especially when the recipient is in distress.
This DOHMH co-response pilot project is exciting but not new. Houston employs a similar co-response team and has done so for 15 years. Many other cities have implemented similar teams that pair peers or clinicians with police officers, or established centralized communication centers where officers can access health information or access to treatment options.
Most importantly, CCIT continues to advocate for city-wide diversion centers where police can quickly drop off people in crisis and return to other police calls. The Mayor and DOHMH have promised to build two diversion centers but unfortunately those centers have not yet been procured or established.
These diversions centers are an essential part of a CIT response. Officers need a place to quickly drop off a person in distress or the officer will take the person into custody. A diversion center is less time-consuming and less expensive than time in jail or in the hospital, and there is evidence that diversion greatly benefits both the recipients and police officers. Currently, even the best-intentioned NYPD officers have no other choice but to take a mental health recipient to a hospital or retain them in another type of custody.
These promised diversion centers are slated to have complete mental health and drug addiction services. They will be open 24/7 and connect those being brought by police to community supports. Unlike hospitals, the focus of the diversion centers is to connect people in distress to outpatient services, a place they can apply for housing, a clinician they can talk to immediately, and other resources known to mental health community organizations. And we are assured peers will play a role in these diversion centers.
The CCITNYC coalition remains hopeful and vigilant that the NYC Mayor’s office invests resources in building diversion centers as an integral part of the CIT approach. We commend the efforts of the Mayor’s office, DOHMH, and the NYPD on their efforts thus far in supporting the best interests of New Yorkers who experience mental health crisis and emotional distress. We look forward to working together with all stakeholders into the future as CIT is expanded and enhanced with community supports.
If you are interested in upcoming events with the CIT Coalition in NYC, CCITNYC.org, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 212-780-1400 x7726.