Crisis Intervention Training (CIT): an essential component of the public safety community

In Law Enforcement, Updates by Beth

Crisis Intervention Training established the desire and need of law enforcement officers to improve their response when dealing with mentally ill persons in crisis.

Cops surround a mentally ill homeless man in Berkeley, California who tries his best to show he is no threat to law enforcement.

It was developed as a result of an incident that occurred in Memphis, Tennessee in September 1987. Police responded to a 911 call that involved a man with a history of mental illness who was cutting himself and threatening to commit suicide. Upon arrival the police ordered the man to drop the knife. The man did not drop the knife and instead he ran towards the Officers. The Officers discharged their firearms, and the man was killed.

A sergeant on the Memphis Police Department went to his superiors and requested to implement a Crisis Intervention Team (also known as CIT). The Memphis Police partnered with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and two Universities, University of Memphis, and University of Tennessee. The Memphis Model as it is referred to today is the cornerstone of  the current program having been adopted in approximately 2,700 communities nationwide.

CIT is training and ultimately a program that provides the foundation necessary to promote community and statewide solutions to assist individuals with a mental illness. The CIT Model reduces both stigma and hopefully the need for further involvement with the criminal justice system. CIT provides an opportunity for effective problem solving regarding the interaction between the justice and mental health care system and the community.

First responders are most often the individuals that respond to a person in a mental health crisis. The term first responder refers to police, law enforcement, correction officer and any other staff member who is a front-line initial responder. Clearly, those who answer a call of a person in distress do not know the full situation until they arrive on scene. The situation can develop into a negative consequence unless those responding understand and follow de-escalating techniques.

CIT programs are designed to improve public safety response to mental health crises, help individuals with mental health and substance use disorders access behavioral health services, and promote safety for the individual and as well as the responding law enforcement officer.

The goals of CIT are straightforward and simple; identify, assess, and intervene; to return the individual to his/her prior level of functioning as quickly as possible; and to lessen any negative impact on future mental health. Crisis Prevention Training focuses on crisis prevention and crisis management strategies, including aggressive behavior and physical intervention. From the law enforcement officers perspective, the focus on de-escalation techniques is critically important since the majority of mental illness crises occur in the community without the benefit of a controlled situation. Other public safety staff may have a situation with some physical constraints and that is why correctional agencies have adopted the CIT model to establish a designated team from various disciplines within a facility to de-escalate the situation while assisting the individual in crisis. All involved in the crisis are working to ensure a nonviolent intervention with a positive outcome.

The benefits of CIT are numerous and here are a few.

  • CIT programs bring community leaders together.
  • Give police officers more tools to do their job safely and effectively.
  • Keep law enforcement’s focus on crime.
  • Ensures that individuals with mental illness are provided the necessary and appropriate services.
  • Produce cost savings.


To learn more about Crisis Intervention Training, sign up to CCT’s special courses on law enforcement de-escalation.