Topeka police Maj. Bill Cochran said he often hears that officers handled a particular incident not only with professionalism, but compassion and understanding.
One significant factor in facilitating positive outcomes between law enforcement and people dealing with a mental illness is the growth of crisis intervention teams.
About 175 people from across Kansas gathered Monday for the 11th annual CIT Summit, held at the Topeka Civic Theatre.
“When we talk about CIT, the primary goal is to decriminalize mental illness,” Cochran said. “But what it also does is it increases officers’ safety as well as the public’s safety because the officers are more prepared.”
Holding up the 947-page “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders,” Topeka police’s acting deputy chief Darin Scott said CIT skills lead to de-escalating situations and getting people the help they need.
“(CIT) is where we are going,” Scott said.
Sixty-five percent of Topeka police officers in the field have undergone CIT training. Overall, about 40 percent of the agency has had the training, well exceeding a national goal of 25 percent.
CIT is also cost effective, Cochran said.
It costs about $350 a day to jail an individual with a mental illness because of special services they may need. In comparison, it costs about $80 a day to jail someone who doesn’t have a mental health issue. That $350 could go a long way in treating someone with the appropriate services, Cochran said.
The daylong event included workshops on restorative processes, tracking CIT outcomes and working with community partners.
Shawnee County Sheriff Herman Jones said there are advantages to understanding groups with different needs.
Better understanding can reduce liability for an agency and build community relations, he said.
“You took the time. You didn’t jump in there and throw your Taser, throw your OC (pepper spray), or draw your weapon out. You actually took a little extra time to deal with someone because you had an understanding of what this individual was dealing with or the family was dealing with,” he said. “So there’s an advantage that comes with having this kind of training.”
Responding to crises also takes communication skills, respect and an awareness of one’s biases.
“We may deal with a small set of folks over and over and over again. Therefore we get callous to how we treat the individual. In doing so then, we build up certain stereotypes and certain prejudices,” Jones said. “We have to be cognizant of our biases, touch into those and then do something about it. There are certain things we can do as adults and one thing is continue to learn.”
He closed by urging those gathered “to be essential to someone else.”
Larned State Hospital superintendent Bill Rein also spoke. Stakeholders began looking at ways to change how incidents involving mental health were handled because it was taking up too much time for police officers while mental health workers didn’t have enough time to stabilize and treat patients, he said.
Rein also talked about how the state handles civil custody. Two conditions have to be considered: the likelihood of harm and if the person has the capacity to make an informed decision.
“There is nothing mysterious about civil custody. There is nothing bad about it. It’s necessary. At times, people need to be taken into civil custody,” he said. “But the mystery is how do you make the best use of everyone’s time and everyone’s resources in support of a person who needs timely and compassionate behavioral health services. That’s the mystery. That’s the challenge.”
Rick Cagan, executive director of Kansas’ chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness said well over 2,000 officers from numerous state law enforcement agencies have completed CIT training.
Nine Kansas counties, including Shawnee County, have crisis intervention teams.
In 2018, a state CIT association will be launched. Cagan said it will provide consistency in training and CIT expansion. The association will also work to better track CIT outcomes, he said.