Creating a Successful CIT Program

A Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) often begins with the good intentions and the hard work of a few dedicated individuals. Whether you are a law enforcement officer, mental health provider, someone personally affected by mental illness or a concerned community member, you can be the catalyst for CIT in your community.

In order to be successful in the long term, this effort needs to be supported by the broader community, including law enforcement agencies, mental health service providers—community mental health services, state psychiatric hospitals and hospital emergency rooms—and mental health advocacy groups.  

Here are some steps to building that much-needed support and ensuring your program starts strong.

Build Partnerships in Your Community

The foundation of CIT is solid partnerships with your community. You should build strong relationships between law enforcement agencies, mental health provider agencies and your local NAMI Affiliate. NAMI and the University of Memphis have developed instructions on how to build effective partnerships

Here are some other things you can do to build a relationship with your NAMI Affiliate:

  1. Identify your local NAMI Affiliate. Join their mailing list and attend a meeting. Share information about CIT and ask them to spread the word with NAMI members.
  2. Find out what they have to offer. Ask for information about the education programs, support groups and trainings that your local NAMI Affiliate offers. Ask permission to refer individuals and families to support groups and education programs hosted by NAMI Affiliates.
  3. Get involved. Encourage officers to present at a NAMI meeting, participate in a NAMI Walk, or attend a public awareness event.
  4. Ask NAMI members to present during CIT training. NAMI members are trained to speak about what it’s like living with a mental health condition or caring for a loved one, and this perspective is vital for officers.   
  5. Make your NAMI Affiliate a formal partner. Invite a representative to participate in your CIT program’s steering committee.
  6. Get feedback. Ask your NAMI Affiliate to weigh in on policy changes or help collect outcome measures related to your program.
  7. Push for the mental health services your community needs. NAMI Affiliates are very active in advocacy, and can help get the message to county and state leaders about the need for crisis services.  
  8. Ask for help coordinating training. NAMI members are passionate volunteers, and they can help with everything from providing training expertise to stuffing binders. 
  9. Ask them to honor your officers’ hard work. NAMI Affiliates will be excited for an opportunity to thank CIT officers. Many NAMI Affiliates host an annual awards ceremony honoring CIT officers.   

Make a Lasting Commitment to CIT

Most communities establish a steering committee to guide their CIT program and ensure that all the partners are at the table and invested in the program. This commitment ensures sustainability of the program. Your steering committee should include leaders from local law enforcement agencies, your local NAMI Affiliate, your local mental health authority, hospital emergency departments or other facilities that receive people in crisis, and leaders in your community. For example, you may want to include mayors, judges or city council members.

To formalize their commitment to CIT, many steering committees create a memorandum of agreement describing each partner’s role in the program. Visit the national community engagement guide for example memoranda and other tips.

Begin the Planning Process: See What CIT Looks Like in Action

We recommend visiting a CIT program near you to learn not just about training, but also how the partners work together and problem solve together. Once you know what’s needed, consider creating workgroups to plan for your program.  There are three areas you should make sure to address:

  • Mental health/criminal justice system coordination. This workgroup should map out local mental health services and how they intersect with the criminal justice system, then talk with front-line workers (patrol officers, ER nurses, etc.) to find out how the system is working from their perspective.
  • Data. This workgroup should find out what data is available that can help inform the program, including the information about law enforcement response to crisis calls, admissions at local hospitals and bookings at local jails.
  • Training. This workgroup should review the national CIT curriculum and recommend adaptations for the local community, recruit and screen local trainers and start to plan special sections of the training, such as face-to-face meetings between officers and individuals living with mental illness.

Once each workgroup has gathered information and developed recommendations, the steering committee can develop a plan and timeline for implementing CIT. To learn more, visit the national community engagement guide.

Implement Your Plan

Based on your planning process, partner agencies may need to create or adapt policies to support CIT and define the responsibilities of each partner agency during a crisis. For example, law enforcement agencies may need to specify in policy that dispatchers should send a CIT trained officer to any mental health call, or that a CIT officer, once on scene, is the lead officer.

Hospitals, working with law enforcement, may need to establish a quicker and clearer transfer of custody process, so that the emergency department gets all the information it needs, and officers are able to get back to the street more quickly.

Communities should also be able to finalize their training curricula and plan training, while law enforcement leaders select the officers best suited to be CIT officers. Most CIT officers apply to be involved in the program, but they may also be recommended by a supervisor or required for some other reason.  To learn more about these details, visit the national community engagement guide.

Ensuring the Continued Success of Your CIT Program

In order to sustain your CIT program, the steering committee should meet regularly to review how the program is working, problem-solve about policy and service issues and plan future training. Partners should plan opportunities to interact informally, for example at an annual awards banquet, NAMIWalk, ride-along or community presentation.

Partners should also work on raising public awareness by inviting local media to the training, sending letters to the editor or alerting media when a CIT officer saves a life. Not only does public awareness make it easier for residents to access CIT services, community support helps partner agencies remain committed to the program and keeps the program strong when leadership changes or budgets get tight.

Many communities eventually expand their efforts to address specific populations, including children and veterans, or to include other criminal justice professionals such as corrections, probation and parole.

Once your CIT program is working well, your steering committee can decide whether it’s appropriate to bring in new partners, plan more advanced training or otherwise expand your scope. Whatever you decide, try to give back by encouraging and supporting other local communities in starting their own CIT programs.

For more information on how to keep your program strong, check out the national community engagement guide.