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A Training Officer’s Perspective on CIT

By Johnny K. Jines, Patrol Sergeant, Jackson (Tenn.) Police Department

Editor’s Note: Sgt. Jines has 27 years experience in law enforcement and is currently a CIT training officer in Jackson, Tenn. Sgt. Jines shared with us his perspective on the CIT program.

Q: In general, what is your role as a training officer?

A:  My primary role in training is to assist officers in gaining the correct knowledge and skills necessary to become effective and proactive public servants.  This is accomplished by carefully designing the training to reach the needs of adult learners.  By relating information to them using lectures, visual aids, and hands-on opportunities to learn, training can help each officer accomplish the learning objectives according to their particular learning style.

Q: How is the CIT training different from other trainings you’ve taught for officers?

A:  Generally speaking, basic training courses for officers are fairly standard in the initial training phases.  However, when they branch out into specialized areas such as crime scene technician, traffic crash reconstruction, emergency vehicle operation instructor, etc., individuals often possess a greater aptitude toward a particular specialization.  This is to say that, while an officer may be able to perform many different tasks related in different specializations, they tend to do better where their individual skills are more aptly focused.  While many officers may make good CIT officers, there are others who may not do as well due to their interest or aptitude.

Q: What is involved in the CIT training?  What do officers experience?

A: The forty hour course of instruction tends to be fast-paced, intense, and structured to increase knowledge and skills necessary to de-escalate and resolve issues with people experiencing a crisis situation.  There are several modules of training that serve as “building blocks” to show officers the types and effects of psychotropic medications, signs of possible mental illness, rights and civil commitment laws, PTSD issues, and awareness of how to respond to adolescents in crisis.  There are several opportunities for officers to test knowledge and skills during role-play scenarios designed to proceed through basic, advanced, and complex phases of crisis intervention.  Many of the scenarios are based on real-life incidents which add more realism to the training.  Officers often comment that the best part of training is day two,  when they spend the entire day visiting with consumers at a local mental health hospital, peer-support day center, and a veteran’s clinic.  These interactions help educate officers about the lived experience of mental illness and clarify many of the misconceptions held by both officers and consumers about mental illness and law enforcement procedure.  This helps build trust and confidence so often lacking between the two groups. 

Q: What challenges does CIT training present for you as the training officer?

A: The main challenge of presenting CIT training is the initial effort to help officers understand how the CIT approach to a crisis situation is vastly different from the traditional approach taught to law enforcement officers. Officers must learn to resolve a crisis by slowing down to a speed that helps the consumer feel less threatened. They learn to build a rapport and show that they actually care about the consumer. Once the objectives of the course-- reducing injuries to officers, reducing injuries to consumers, reducing stigma associated with mental illness, de-criminalizing mental illness, and approaching the issue with a team effort--are made clear, officers support the goal of getting the consumer to treatment instead of jail. 

Q: How do officers respond to the CIT training?  Do you see a change in them over the course of the week?

A: Like most other training that is new to officers, officers initially express a certain amount of skepticism.  However, once training starts there is a gradual acceptance and realization that this training has definite merit and can be readily transitioned for use in the field.  The structure of the course allows for building a knowledge base, added to the practical skills demonstrations, and the time spent interacting with actual consumers makes the most change in the officers.  The realization that these consumers are just like anyone else, especially ourselves, allows officer to build strong empathetic bonds of understanding and caring.  

Q: What feedback do you get about the CIT training?  Do you feel the training “sticks” with officers over time and is helpful in their day-to-day work?

A: Feedback so far has been very positive from officers as well as from consumers, family members, advocacy groups and the general population in regard to what a difference CIT is making in the community.  Other members of the law enforcement community who are not CIT trained have a growing acceptance that CIT is a viable strategy for responding to individuals experiencing mental health crisis situations. Training definitely “sticks” with the officers, which is evident in their daily work in responding to crisis calls.  Officers are found sharing information about what has and has not worked in a crisis situation for them and are genuinely committed to making this process work in the community. 

Q: In your role as a training officer, do you interact with the local NAMI and how?  What role do NAMI members have in the training?

The local NAMI affiliate president has been very active and present at every CIT training that we have held.  I was so impressed with the presentation they made during my own week of initial training that I joined NAMI on the second day of training.  My involvement since that initial membership has resulted in my attending every monthly meeting and an opportunity to participate in the annual candlelight vigil, consumer picnic, and peer-support center holiday party.  NAMI members are very active in local CIT training as they attend all pre-training and post-training meetings to offer suggestions and other input about CIT issues in general. 

This area is fortunate to have a very good relationship between the local NAMI affiliate and law enforcement. Several officers usually sign up for NAMI membership during the course of their training and continue to support the organization through donations.  There is no limit to how far NAMI and CIT can go in improving the quality of life for those families and individuals living with mental illness.  I am very proud to be a CIT officer and trainer, and a NAMI member.

To contact Sgt. Jines, email jkjines@gmail.com.

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