IDAHO FALLS, Idaho — The average person is often fearful during confrontations with police officers, so imagine the trepidation those with mental illness go through when the law comes knocking.
That tenuous situation can become exacerbated if law enforcement officers who arrive have no training in mental illness and treat a situation as if they were dealing with typical criminal behavior.
A Crisis Intervention Team, which a number of eastern Idaho law enforcement agencies are pursuing, solves that problem.
Sam Cochran, a retired major with the Memphis Police Department in Memphis, Tenn., spoke about CITs to roughly 150 law-enforcement officers, mental health advocates and members of the public during a presentation Tuesday at University Place in Idaho Falls.
The Memphis Police Department is credited with implementing the nation's first CIT in 1988 after receiving months of negative publicity when officers shot and killed a knife-wielding 27-year-old mentally ill man a year prior.
Cochran said that before the CIT program in Memphis, officers shared a mind-set that the mentally ill should be taken off the street, which reflected the community's desires.
CIT emphasizes that not everybody needs to go through the criminal justice system.
""This is not a law enforcement program, this is a community program,"" Cochran said.
Eastern Idaho is primed to become the state's first region to implement a CIT program, which more than 600 law enforcement agencies nationwide have adopted.
But law enforcement is only one component of CIT. Other partners include mental health providers, mental health clients and their families, and local chapters of the National Alliance for Mental Illness.
Law enforcement is a critical aspect, however, because officers are the first to arrive on scene during crisis situations.
Under the CIT program, officers undergo 40 hours of training in psychotropic medication, substance abuse, counseling, suicide intervention, personality disorders, legal ramifications and a host of other topics before they can become certified. Doctors, counselors, advocates and mentally ill patients provide the training.
When an incident arises with a mentally ill person, officers with CIT training respond.
The eastern Idaho region recently sent 10 individuals, including representatives from the Bonneville County sheriff's office and Idaho Falls Police Department, to Salt Lake City to participate in CIT training.
Bonneville County Deputy Patrick Crapo was among that group.
Crapo said he became interested after an experience with a diabetic having difficulties. Crapo said he could have handled the situation better if he had some training.
Learning what a mentally ill person goes through was enlightening, he said.
""Knowing more about that was eye-opening to me and changed the way I feel about people with mental illness,"" Crapo said.
Both the sheriff's office and police department are excited about the program.
Sgt. Doug Metcalf, spokesman for the sheriff's office, said he expects there will be at least one CIT-certified deputy on every shift.
Idaho Falls Police Chief Steve Roos, who attended Tuesday's presentation along with Bonneville County Sheriff Paul Wilde, said he's impressed with the stats showing CITs cut down on injuries to both officers and the public.
Figures provided by the Memphis Police Department indicate six officers were injured during every 100 mental illness crisis events in the years prior to the CIT program; by 1997, the number was down to one injury per 100 events.
Besides that benefit, Roos said, a CIT ""is the right thing to do.""
Cochran, who came to Idaho Falls thanks to a grant from the University of Memphis, where he now works, said officers wearing a CIT-certification pin will evoke significantly less fear from someone with a mental illness.
In Memphis, he said, mental health clients are more comfortable with the CIT officers.
""They'll say things like 'That's my officer,' "" he said. ""That's a CIT officer.""
Did you know?
The Upper Valley chapter of the National Alliance for Mental Illness is co-sponsoring a free, 40-hour Crisis Intervention Team training session Feb. 2 through 6. For more information, contact NAMI Upper Valley President Kim Jardine-Dickerson at [email protected]or at 589-7667.