By Laura Usher
In 1988, two advocates from NAMI Memphis were the driving force behind the first crisis intervention team (CIT) program. Ann Dino and Helen Adamo were driven by outrage at the way their families were treated by police. But their advocacy was persistent and thoughtful; ultimately, the city of Memphis and the police chief worked with them because they presented a solution that would help both individuals and families affected by mental illness and police.
As NAMI members have followed in the footsteps of NAMI Memphis to help start hundreds of CIT programs in communities nationwide, they have learned a lot about what makes a successful CIT program, and the role NAMI Affiliates can play.
CIT programs are only successful in the long term if they are built on strong partnerships between mental health advocates, mental health providers and police. A training-only approach to CIT will be only somewhat effective, and only in the short-term. The goal of CIT is to change hearts and transform the community, and that can only be accomplished with genuine relationships. NAMI Affiliates can contribute to this challenging process by:
CIT programs should be guided by a steering committee of all the agencies involved, including the NAMI Affiliate, mental health provider agency and law enforcement agency. As part of this committee, NAMI Affiliates have a unique role: to make sure that the needs of individuals and families affected by mental illness are heard at every step. These committees help to identify resources and challenges in the community, plan how to coordinate services, organize CIT training, problem-solve and sustain the program over the long-term. At every step, the need of individuals and families should be included and a representative from your NAMI Affiliate should be a permanent member of this committee.
CIT training takes a lot of planning. Any one of the partner agencies may designate a CIT coordinator whose responsibility is to coordinate training and promotes smooth communication between the partners. Sometimes the NAMI Affiliate plays this role, but not always. NAMI members can pitch in, with other partners, to make sure training manuals are copied, chairs are set up, lunch is served and the week goes smoothly.
NAMI Affiliate leaders should carefully select presenters to participate in the CIT training who can be honest, positive and constructive. Sometimes NAMI members feel anger and frustration with past behavior by police. If possible, it’s best to resolve this privately with the sheriff or chief. It’s never appropriate to use the CIT training to air grievances or accuse officers of wrongdoing.
NAMI members present during the training on the following topics:
Officers usually volunteer for CIT training because of a personal connection with mental illness or a desire to help others in their community. Responding to crisis calls is challenging, and most CIT officers get no extra pay or perks. NAMI Affiliate can help keep CIT officers motivated and dedicated to their jobs by spreading the word about CIT and thanking officers for good service. Here are some ways to do that: