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Feature Story: New Study Validates Effectiveness of CIT

Contributor: Benjamin Sumners

Advocates involved in CIT programs at the local level know from experience that training in mental health crisis intervention for police helps to minimize incidents of violence and promote the safety of consumers and officers. A new study analyzing officer attitudes about the use of force adds to the growing body of evidence that confirms these observations.

The study by Compton, Neubert, Broussard, McGriff, Morgan and Oliva, published in the November issue of Schizophrenia Bulletin, compared the responses of law enforcement officers with CIT training to those without CIT training. The officers were presented with a series of written scenarios of encounters with individuals experiencing a psychiatric crisis. Officers could choose between a range of eight responses from “My physical presence and authority as a police officer is enough to handle the situation” to “I would use my police baton to physically engage the suspect.” The officers also completed a self-report on profile characteristics such as age and experience.

The study found significant conclusions about how officers viewed the use of force and when they choose to deploy. First, officers with CIT training were less likely to use force to engage persons living with mental illness. Secondly, CIT trained officers believed that nonphysical responses were more effective, and physical responses less effective when responding to a person with mental illness than non-CIT trained officers. These findings suggest that verbal de-escalation training is effective in providing officers with the tools they need to safely resolve situations without resorting force.        

The study’s authors point out that CIT trainees for the most part (about 75 percent of participants) took the CIT training by choice. CIT officers indicated that they had significantly more contact or experience with mental illness or mental health professionals in their families than those who did not take the training, so this may also contribute to their different treatment of people who live with mental illness.

Favoring verbal over physical de-escalation can lead to fewer injuries to law enforcement and individuals who live with mental illness alike, saving law enforcement time and money and preserving the goodwill of the community. This study provides support for further funding and expansion of CIT programs. CIT programs can use this and other studies to bolster their grant applications, get buy in from local partners  and talk to the media.

An abstract of the original study, “Use of Force Preferences and Perceived Effectiveness of Actions Among Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Police Officers and Non-CIT Officers in an Escalating Psychiatric Crisis Involving a Subject With Schizophrenia” can be found on the Schizophrenia Bulletin Web site.