Police Departments Train Officers to Handle Mentally Ill Suspects

Law Enforcement Agencies Recognize Need for Special Training to Deal with Mentally Challenged Suspects

Acknowledging the increasing likelihood that police officers will have to question and perhaps detain persons with mental challenges, police departments across the country are sending officers to specialized training to help them defuse potentially volatile situations. Experts point to decreased funding for state mental health programs, noting that many individuals who would have been institutionalized in state mental hospitals are now on the streets. When ordinary citizens encounter difficulties with mentally unstable people, their inclination is to call law enforcement officers, forcing officers to handle situations for which they have little training.

Many departments have instituted what is known as “crisis intervention training,” or CIT. The CIT program came into being in Memphis, Tennessee, in response to a public outcry when police shot a mentally ill man who was threatening suicide. Reports indicate that up to 3,000 police departments nationwide now employ some form of CIT program.

The focus of the CIT programs is on alternatives to the use of force. Officers learn how to calm down suspects, and how to identify ways to resolve tensions without threats or use of violence.

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