National Alliance on Mental Illness
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The CIT Movement: Being More Like MADD

By Lt. Michael S. Woody (ret.), President of CIT International

Does the community you live in have a law enforcement agency that embraces the crisis intervention team (CIT) model?  Does the campus security at the college you or your children attend use CIT? If you have tried to bring CIT to their attention but failed to get them to move in the direction of starting a program, maybe I can provide some insight into how to connect with law enforcement.

I was the Director of Training of a 500-plus person law enforcement agency when I retired. As such I was tasked with providing officers the best and most relevant training possible.  There is a lot that the public expects of its law enforcement officers and we do our best to meet the needs of our communities.  But, sometimes the "squeaky wheel" gets a little more grease than those of us in law enforcement originally thought they should.  Often, all law enforcement need is a thorough education on the issue by advocates.

Polite and Persistent Advocacy

I first encountered this kind of advocacy from the organization Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).  MADD thought the police were not working hard enough to get drunk drivers off the streets.  A lot of these advocates had lost a spouse, child, parent or other loved one to drunk driving.  They had a passion and mission not to let this happen to anyone else.  They formed MADD and started making appointments with police chiefs and sheriffs in an effort to accomplish this mission. 

But things were not changing as quickly as the members of MADD would have liked. So, they started showing up in courtrooms when it was time for sentencing in these cases.  This strategy made it a little more difficult for judges and magistrates to let the offender off with a slap on the wrist.

A MADD representative called me at least once per year and kindly asked, "What training are you giving the officers this year involving getting drunk drivers off the streets?"  If I did not have an answer they offered one or two ideas and were willing to come in and teach on the subject.  I knew I would get that phone call each year, so I eventually decided to be proactive. They were gently holding my feet to the fire and I responded.  They got what they wanted, and the police and community were  better off for it.

Pitching In to Make CIT a True Partnership

Many NAMI members are in the same position MADD was in back then:  trying to get law enforcement interested in starting a CIT program but not getting a lot of momentum.  CIT programs are spreading across the country, but surely not fast enough for individuals and families needing mental health treatment, not time in jail.      

I learned about CIT through the advocacy of my local Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Board (ADM Board), the public mental health provider.

The ADM Board came to me and told me about CIT back in 1999 and showed me a pamphlet from Memphis, TN on the subject.  I had never heard of the program, but because of the experiences I had as an officer responding to people with mental illness I was interested in the subject matter.     I told the ADM Board that I was willing to attend a 40-hour CIT course in Memphis, but was not sure my department would pay to send me.

The ADM Board offered to pay my way to the training.  The gesture made me realize just how important this was to the community, and it astounded my supervisors.  How could we possibly turn that down? 

I went to Memphis and came back a CIT disciple. With the help of our ADM Board and NAMI Summit County, we conducted the first of 29 CIT courses in my county.  Today, all 28 law enforcement agencies in the county have CIT.  I was fortunate enough to be able to help spread CIT statewide, and today 86 out of 88 Ohio counties have the program.  Over 7,000 officers, campus security, dispatchers, probation and parole officers, troopers, park rangers, deputies, and court officers have gone to the course and proudly wear the CIT pin.

That success was only possible because of a genuine interest in partnering with the Akron PD and a willingness to invest in CIT.   The offer to pay my way to Memphis was the beginning of an enduring partnership between the Akron Police Department, the ADM Board and NAMI Summit County.

If you are having trouble convincing you local police or sheriff's department to start a CIT program, remember: be polite, but persist. Show up. And offer to help, in the spirit of partnership. 

Come to the CIT International Conference to learn more about building partnerships in your community!