Step Two: Create Change

A successful CIT program commits to changing the response to mental health crisis situations—it’s an opportunity for community agencies to change the current broken system. With CIT, your community can create a new system that supports recovery and diverts people with mental illness away from the criminal justice system.

Assess Your Crisis Response System

What happens when police respond to a person in crisis in your community? It’s best to talk through this with your partners. That way you can identify gaps or barriers that make it difficult for officers to help people in crisis access mental health care. Use resources such as The Sequential Intercept Model to identify points within the criminal justice system where people with mental illness can be linked to services. NAMI’s CIT for Youth Implementation Manual also includes an asset mapping process (see page 49) that can be adapted to your community.

Your assessment should also include an evaluation of the policies and procedures of your local mental health agencies, hospitals and law enforcement agencies. Do these policies promote communication and cooperation with other organizations? What do they say about transporting people experiencing a mental health crisis? Consider drafting new policies or cooperative agreements. NAMI’s CIT for Youth Implementation Manual also includes examples of agreements that describe the roles and responsibilities of community partners during a crisis (page 97). Use HIPAA Privacy Rule: A Guide for Law Enforcement to ensure you’re complying with federal privacy laws.  

Evaluate Your Efforts

Jails, hospitals, mental health organizations and law enforcement agencies likely collect data about mental health crises. Work with these partners as you create a plan to measure the effectiveness of your CIT program. Consider including researchers from a college or university in your work, for example. Faculty and researchers from departments of criminology, social work, public policy and related fields can make recommendations about data collection and methods for evaluating your program.

Data can help you evaluate the outcomes of your CIT program, identify where you might need to improve or demonstrate the impact of your program to funders and other community leaders. Sophisticated program evaluation might not be possible for every community; however, a research partner can help you start with basic data collection and help make complex evaluation a long-term goal. Check the Police-Mental Health Collaboration Toolkit for guidance on what data to collect.

Additionally, personal stories can enhance the data you’re collecting about your CIT program. Your local NAMI and other advocacy partners can help you collect stories about successful encounters with law enforcement from people living with mental illness and their family members.

Develop and Plan Officer Training

Use a model curriculum outline and work with your community partners to customize a 40-hour training for law enforcement officers. In addition to customizing a curriculum to fit your community’s needs, you’ll also want to select a team of dynamic training presenters who are familiar with law enforcement culture. This team should include: law enforcement officers, mental health professionals, individuals living with mental illness and their family members. Lived experience presentations are an essential part of CIT training—this face-to-face interaction is crucial for officers to understand how to help someone experiencing a mental health crisis.

Your training team should consider attending a training of trainers focused on verbal de-escalation. CIT International, your NAMI State Organization or your state CIT association may be able to help you find a training in your region.  

CIT is a specialized training, and you should only select certain officers to participate. While all officers should have some understanding of mental illness and de-escalation, research has shown that officers who play a specialist role or volunteer to become a CIT officer, are more effective in addressing a mental health crisis.

Having 911 operators trained is just as important as having law enforcement officers trained, since they’ll need to know how to direct mental health calls. So, you should also consider including emergency communicators, such as 911 operators, in your first officer training to begin evaluating needs for separate emergency communicator training. Based on the feedback you receive from that training, you might consider developing a training that includes skills in verbal de-escalation and assessing whether a call involves a mental health crisis.

Continue to Step Three: Sustain Your Efforts