Individuals in mental health crises can be overwhelmed by law enforcement responses. When a person of color is experiencing a mental health crisis, vulnerabilities can be compounded. Outcomes are more positive when first responders have proper training and work in partnership with behavior health personnel to de-escalate crises and refer people to appropriate community services.

Crisis Intervention Team Utah adheres to nationally recognized best practices for law enforcement response to behavioral health crisis situations. This can be critical in providing safety and support for the individuals in crisis, their families, law enforcement and whole communities. Still, best practice CIT is not available in many parts of the state. A unified CIT program that is consistent statewide is needed.

Advocates gather to share importance of police mental health training

Recently, police were called to assist a youth in crisis who was traveling with his family. The police assessed the situation and immediately called the mental health Stabilization and Mobile Response Team. As the team arrived, the officers moved off-site, fully confident that these team members had the situation under control. The team provided support to the teenager who was overstimulated, provided support to the distressed mother and supported the officers who were able to quickly return to patrol.

On another recent crisis call, a man was in distress, was saying, “I need help. I can’t keep doing this!” The local Mobile Crisis Outreach Team of behavioral health specialists were first deployed to the scene. Dispatch informed the specialists that police officers were in the area and were on alert if needed. By the time team members arrived, the man’s message had changed to, “I’m going to kill myself or my parents unless I get to the hospital!” The specialists on scene determined two things: that the situation was escalating, and that they needed assistance moving him to the hospital. So in this instance, they called in the CIT officers who arrived quickly and calmly, to get the man the care he needed.

All these — Crisis Intervention, Stabilization and Mobile Response and Mobile Crisis Outreach teams — are programs which regularly work together in the community. They develop trust in one another, acquire knowledge and respect for each other’s skills and become effective in working together to de-escalate situations. 

CIT Utah is a Utah nonprofit organization that administers the national CIT program for the state. It provides training of law enforcement officers in effective methods of crisis response, de-escalation and resolution. It helps to develop effective community crisis response systems. Depending on the circumstances, law enforcement officers may be the first responders, and other times are present to provide support to the mental health professionals.

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When communities implement best-practice CIT, they provide efficacious services to those in crisis, offer long-term solutions to crisis situations, give better support to family members, divert people from the criminal justice system, experience cost savings and have better outcomes overall.

CIT Utah would like to support all Utah communities in this time of tension and change. We are willing to partner with law enforcement and behavioral health agencies to contribute to training, reform and social justice. We also want to support conversations about police reform, regarding mental health, in any Utah community. It is our honor to do this work.

Sherri Wittwer is the president of CIT Utah; Chief Darin Adams is the first vice president of CIT Utah and Cedar City police chief; Steven Allen, Ph.D., is the CIT Utah second vice president; Jed Burton, a licensed clinical social worker, is the CIT Utah treasurer and director of clinical services at Weber County Human Services; Travis Lyman is a lieutenant with Layton Police Department.

Zara Juillerat is the CIT Utah secretary; Troy Rawlings is the Davis County Attorney; and Sara Urquhart is a community member.

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