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  • Terry Fitzpatrick

Family Perspective: The Value of Crisis Intervention

My experiences with police officers trained in crisis intervention (CIT officers) has been successful and much appreciated as a mom of a son diagnosed 16 years ago with schizoaffective disorder. It’s devastating not only to the individual with the illness but the family as well. When someone is in a psychotic state (delusional, hallucinating, depressed, suicidal) it can be scary for everyone. Having some knowledge of what to expect is half the battle. Learning to see things from their perspective is important. Imagine hearing voices, seeing things that really aren’t there… And then seeing someone standing in front of you who actually has a gun. There is less chance someone who is symptomatic will become aggressive when they feel the officer understands them or seems to care for them as compared to taking a “bossy approach”.

Unfortunately, we have had to call 911 for my son many times. Before crisis intervention training was “available”, police interaction was tough. Officers would come to the house and not really know what to do, or most importantly, what to say and HOW to say it. Their approach is HUGE when dealing with someone who is mentally ill and has decided to stop taking their medications or if their medications are no longer working, whatever the case may be. The person may already be paranoid or scared, and in those scenarios, there were significant differences between our experiences with CIT officers responding compared to non-CIT officers. The individual with the illness responds in a much calmer manner with the CIT officers due to their approach, which in most cases works to convince that individual that they need to go to the hospital – not something they (or anyone else!) want to hear. Learning what works best is the key, and CIT training provides that knowledge and makes a big difference in the field.

Two years ago, I had to call 911 for my son. When I called, I specifically asked for a CIT officer. When they arrived, the officer had not been trained in crisis intervention and was not a CIT officer, and it showed. His approach to try to convince my son he needed to be in the hospital was aggressive. Arguing with a psychotic person does not work. Understanding that… does work! The encounter ended with the involvement of Internal Affairs as the officer had behaved in entirely inappropriate ways. My son was injured in the encounter because he did not want to go to the hospital and the officer was inadequately trained to safely manage the incident. It was a situation that could have ended much differently had the officer been trained to work with someone with a mental illness and understand, or at least empathize with, what that person is feeling in order to engage in the best and safest approach for everyone involved.

Every encounter that our family has had with a CIT officer was much different than those with officers who were not trained - and I truly believe every officer should be trained. Safety is so important for the officer AND the person they are encountering. Keeping that in mind, CIT training helps to keep the situation safe and often results in the most positive outcome possible for all parties.


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