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HRC’s Gabriel Verzino talked with Major Sam Cochran of the Crisis Intervention Team in Memphis, TN. Major Cochran shared highlights of this unique partnership model intended to reduce criminal arrests of people with mental illness. (HRC)
Everybody's Business: The importance of Crisis intervention

Taking a deep breath, Major Cochran pauses and explains simply, “Crisis intervention is everybody’s business.”

Many people find themselves homeless as a result of mental illness or substance abuse, and these issues can be further compounded by violence, isolation, and criminal arrest while on the streets. Crisis intervention is not a perfect science, but developing skilled teams can help to reduce the arrests and trauma experienced by offenders who are mentally ill.

The Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) in Memphis, TN was the first of about 80 programs now operating nationwide to provide alternative approaches to working with people who have mental illness in criminal offense and crisis situations. The CIT model, established in 1988, helps law enforcement officers resolve mental health crisis events by partnering with communities and rehabilitative services rather than seeking arrest as a first option. The program emphasizes the more practical solution of bringing people with mental illness into treatment – not jail.

In previous years, officers in Memphis would diffuse 20 percent of disturbance calls involving citizens with mental illness by arresting them. Why? Simply because it was the easiest option. These “victimless” arrests have now been reduced to less than one percent, thanks to the de-escalation techniques and knowledge gained by CIT officers.

Currently operated under Major Sam Cochran, there are over 200 voluntarily trained CIT officers in Memphis, accounting for nearly one quarter of the total patrol staff. The instruction includes 40 hours of sensitivity training. “Consideration for the program is based strictly on an officer’s maturity and desire to be of service to [people who are] mentally ill,” explained Major Cochran.

The Memphis community has also benefited from the vigilant and competent approach officers are now taking in response to mental health crisis situations. “The accountability and responsibility of our CIT staff helps promote our identity as reliable crisis respondents,” added Major Cochran.
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A program of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Mental Health Services