What Is Crisis Intervention Training and Why Is Every Department Doing It?

Posted on 05-12-2015 in Police

From New York to Arizona, police departments are providing their officers with crisis intervention training, or CIT. What is crisis intervention? The term can conjure images of tense situations you might see in movies, like talking a man at the end of his rope off the ledge of a building. Unfortunately, such a scenario is a very real possibility, and one that crisis intervention training prepares officers to handle. Crisis intervention is the emergency care given to an individual who is unable to function as they normally would. This can apply to those suffering from mental illness or developmental disability. It can also apply to those who are under the influence of mind-altering substances or have been subjected to extreme stress.

While it’s safe to say that Riggs’ approach to crisis intervention in Lethal Weapon is less than ideal, some might find themselves in a similar situation, such as police Officer Will Hathaway. He was the first to arrive on the scene of a man teetering on the edge of bridge in Scottsdale, Arizona. Even though this was the first time he dealt with a “jumper,” his training in crisis intervention had equipped him with the proper tools to handle the situation.

What does crisis intervention entail? An essential component is correctly identifying the signs and symptoms of mental-health issues. Being able to differentiate between PTSD and a psychotropic trip is key in deciding an effective course of action. Equipped with an accurate assessment of the situation, officers and non-sworn employees can implement listening skills and de-escalation tactics to bring about a peaceful resolution.

This might seem like common sense, but the actual implementation of such skills in the heat of the moment is no easy task.

Recent events involving the use of force can attest to the extreme measures officers have felt compelled to take when confronted with individuals deemed non-compliant or unresponsive. By now it should go without saying that such drastic measures have put police under extreme scrutiny, and while some departments have been able to show community watchdogs the difficult decisions officers routinely face, not every member within a department’s community may be so understanding. And while the importance of building a strong relationship with the community should not be understated, there are, of course, the more immediate repercussions of the use of force, the injury and possible loss of life that everyone would much rather avoid. Crisis intervention training helps officers improve community ties and provides them with alternatives to handling unstable situations, without resorting to such severe methods.

As Scottsdale Police Commander Bruce Ciolli so eloquently puts it, “‘[CIT is] basically increasing the number of tools on [a police officer’s] toolbelt.’” He added that CIT is “‘increasing their knowledge of what the person is going through.’”

This understanding imparted by crisis intervention training contributed to Officer Hathaway’s success in preventing a possible suicide. “‘I think his main motivation wasn’t necessarily the desire to die, but the desire to stop hurting,’” said Hathaway.

So, should officers toss out their handcuffs and start hugging every suspect that comes their way? Probably not, but like handcuffs, mace, and guns, your voice can be an effective tool to protect yourself and others. You just have to know how to use it.


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