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Chicago Begins Specialized Veterans CIT Program

When Iraq veteran Sgt. James Dean was shot in a police confrontation in Maryland on Christmas of 2006, the story that unfolded afterward was a tragic one. The veteran had returned from service with sleep problems, anger and the inability to confide in his friends and family. Dean found help and improved, but a few months later, his anxiety increased approaching his redeployment. He became angry and when police officers arrived in response from concerned calls from family members, forced an armed showdown with them that ended in his death. Observers would argue later that perhaps this was what Sgt. Dean had intended.

The Journal of the American Medical Association reported in March of 2009 that the number of suicides among returning and serving military members had more than doubled between 2004 and 2008. Confrontations between police and veterans experiencing mental health crises are on the rise as well. A RAND report from 2008 estimates that more than 11 percent of returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan are diagnosed with PTSD or depression related to combat. Symptoms of PTSD include high levels of stress, feelings of detachment and hopelessness, irritability, and a tendency to overreact to perceived threats. History shows that veterans from all U.S. wars have higher rates of arrest than the overall population. In Chicago, police are training for the increasing number of encounters they expect to have with members of the military returned from Iraq and Afghanistan.

In September, the first class of 40 Veterans CIT (Crisis Intervention Team) officers graduated from training in Chicago. The new graduates were trained in handling the mental health crises and needs of the new generation of soldiers returning home from combat. According to Lt. Jeffry Murphy, CIT Coordinator for the Chicago Police Department, the training, "succeeded beyond our own expectations."

The training lasts 40 hours, which is on top of the basic 40-hour CIT training. Topics covered include traumatic brain injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, veteran women’s issues, community resources and extensive role-plays. The training includes the hallmark of CIT: Family and consumer perspectives, including a panel of veterans who have experienced mental illness to answer officers’ questions.

In order to participate, officers must be CIT trained and must submit an application. Preference is given to officers who are veterans, and to officers who have been trained by the FBI as Hostage Negotiators. Finally, where the officer is assigned is taken into consideration, as the plan is to have Veterans CIT-trained officers available throughout the city.

Officers who are also been combat veterans testified to the realism of the training. The purpose of the training, said Murphy, was to, “inform all of our CIT officers of the storm coming home, and we decided not to tone the message down, but give warning to future classes of officers that what we would present some content that might be disturbing.” Due to interest from recently returned veterans, training has had to be extended in order to accommodate the numbers of officers asking for the classes. By the end of 2009, 115 officers were trained in veterans CIT and classes are scheduled well into this year.

To learn more about Chicago’s veterans CIT program, contact Lt. Jeffry Murphy at jeffry.murphy@chicagopolice.org or read the news releaseThe RAND Report on the wounds affecting returned veterans can be found on the RAND web site.

 

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