National Alliance on Mental Illness
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CIT Special Networking Session: The Role of Top-down Leadership

NAMI advocates around the country have learned that successful crisis intervention team (CIT) programs are built on local partnerships. While grassroots advocacy on CIT is important, this year’s CIT special networking session highlighted how some community leaders can be powerful agents of change. Speakers at the session suggested strategies for building partnerships with chiefs and sheriffs, judges, mental health commissioners and attendees were invited to share their successes and challenges.

All the speakers emphasized the importance of approaching community leaders with a positive solution to a shared problem rather than with complaints or demands. This strategy is important to building the productive, lasting partnerships that are the key to systems change. Once community leaders are invested in promoting CIT, they have enormous power to bring together other community partners, change policies and command media attention. One chief or judge can also generate the support of chiefs and judges in neighboring communities.

Speakers also emphasized the importance of being prepared with information to leave behind with community leaders, being persistent and being polite. It’s also important to be prepared with information about the specific challenges in your community. More than 85 percent of law enforcement agencies serve communities of 50,000 or smaller, and they are more likely to be responsive if you can demonstrate that a problem exists in the community.

The speakers this year were Major Sam Cochran (ret.), Chief Thomas Garrity of the Collingswood (NJ) police department, Elaine Deck of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, Stephen Baron, director of the D.C. Department of Mental Health and Laura Usher, CIT coordinator at NAMI.

The crisis intervention team (CIT) special networking session is an annual event at the NAMI convention that features a panel of experts on an emerging trend in CIT. Session participants have time for question and answer and sharing the success of their local programs. Major Sam Cochran works with NAMI staff to choose the topic and speakers and moderates the session.

Advocates may find the follow resources helpful: