What Is CIT?

A Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) program is a model for community policing that brings together law enforcement, mental health providers, hospital emergency departments and individuals with mental illness and their families to improve responses to people in crisis. CIT programs enhance communication, identify mental health resources for assisting people in crisis and ensure that officers get the training and support that they need. 

What Does CIT Training Include?

CIT programs provide officers with 40 hours of intensive training, including:

  • Learning from mental health professionals and experienced officers in your community. One of the reasons CIT is successful is that it connects officers with a team of clinicians and fellow officers who can advise, problem-solve and support them when a challenging situation occurs.
  • Personal interaction with people who have experienced and recovered from mental health crisis and with family members who have cared for loved ones with mental illness. NAMI members present at the training, providing officers a first-hand opportunity to hear stories of recovery, ask questions and learn what helps (and harms) when a person is in a crisis.
  • Verbal de-escalation skills. CIT teaches a new set of skills for ensuring officer safety – the words, approach and body language that convince a person to get help, or defuse a potentially violent encounter.
  • Scenario-based training on responding to crises. With the help of volunteers or actors, officers practice their skills in common crisis situations, and get immediate feedback from instructors and classmates.

A national CIT training curriculum model was developed through a partnership between NAMI, the University of Memphis CIT Center, CIT International and the International Association of Chiefs of Police. The curriculum provides an outline for local programs to follow and programs often innovate within these guidelines to meet local needs.   

The Benefits of CIT

CIT gives officers more tools to do their job safely and effectively. It helps keep people with mental illness out of jail, and get them into treatment, where they are more likely to get on the road to recovery.

  • CIT improves officer safety. After the introduction of CIT in Memphis, Tenn., officer injuries sustained during responses to “mental disturbance” calls dropped 80%.1
  • CIT is the best program. Compared to other jail diversion programs, officers say CIT is better at minimizing the amount of time they spend on mental disturbance calls, more effective at meeting the needs of people with mental illness and better at maintaining community safety.2
  • CIT saves public money. Pre-booking jail diversion programs, including CIT, reduce the number of re-arrests of people with mental illness by a staggering 58%.3 Individuals who encounter a CIT-trained officer receive more counseling, medication and other forms of treatment than individuals who are not diverted—services that keep them out of expensive jail beds and hospitals.  For example, in a study in Detroit, housing an inmate with mental illness in jail costs $31,000/year, while community-based mental health treatment costs only $10,000/year.4

Starting  A CIT Program

A strong CIT program needs you to reach out and build partnerships in your community. Most CIT programs are developed by local communities, sometimes with neighboring jurisdictions, so law enforcement executives, mental health director and other community leaders need to commit to the program.

Before you start training, you will want to think about ensuring police and the emergency department (or other crisis service) coordinate with each other. Read about implementing a successful CIT program to get started on your planning process. 

CIT For Youth 

Many CIT programs have expanded to address the needs of youth. While many aspects of CIT are the same, youth have different needs than adults and they are more likely to show signs of a problem at school. By bringing together school leaders, school-based law enforcement, parents and children’s mental health providers, CIT for Youth can help prevent youth with mental health conditions from entering the juvenile justice system. 

1 Dupont, R., Cochran, S., & Bush, A. (1999) “Reducing criminalization among individuals with mental illness.” Presented at the US Department of Justice and Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Conference on Forensics and Mental Illness, Washington, DC, July 1999.

2 Borum, R., Deane, M.D., Steadman, H., & Morrissey, J. (1998). “Police perspectives on responding to mentally ill people in crisis: perceptions of program effectiveness.” Behavioral Sciences and the Law, 16, 393-405.

3 TAPA Center for Jail Diversion. (2004). “What can we say about the effectiveness of jail diversion programs for persons with cooccurring disorders?” The National GAINS Center. Accessed December 19, 2007 at: http://gainscenter.samhsa.gov/pdfs/ jail_diversion/WhatCanWeSay.pdf.

4 Greene, J. (May 6, 2011) “Mental health cuts in Detroit have increased law enforcement problems, flooded ERs and created general misery” Crains Detroit Business. Accessed April 20, 2015 at: http://www.crainsdetroit.com/article/20110506/BLOG010/110509920/mental-health-cuts-in-detroit-have-increased-law-enforcement-problems.