How Crisis Intervention Teams Save Lives

In Phoenix, Ariz., a man named Austin Smith was almost a success story for the local crisis intervention team program. In November 2018, police responded to his residence after a neighbor reported Smith had a gun and was yelling that people were trying to kill him. Officers rushed to the scene. Recognizing Smith’s behavior indicated mental health issues, the police impounded his guns and sent him to a local urgent psychiatric center. He was successfully diverted to a place where he might have gotten the help he needed. But something went horribly wrong – the next time the police had contact with Smith, he had killed four people: his wife, two children, and a friend.

If these crisis intervention team programs are so effective, how could this have happened? As soon as the Phoenix police dropped Smith off at the urgent psychiatric center, the officers no longer had access to Smith’s status. There was no record left of an adjudicated order or that he was committed to the ward, so just one week later Smith was able to return to the Phoenix police’s property management bureau and claim his guns. From then on he was a ticking time bomb. With no one to follow up on his status, his rehabilitation was never followed through, and it resulted in four unnecessary deaths.

This is an extreme case, but the lack of communication between mental health and law enforcement has been one of the biggest challenges facing CIT programs. How do we help these jail-diversion programs prevent people from going home to instigate another domestic disturbance or from abusing substances and getting behind the wheel of a car before they’ve gotten the help they need?

CIT Programs Are Immensely Beneficial

Mental health crisis services are not easily available across the U.S., and law enforcement officers are often the first responders to mental health crises. As a result, crisis intervention team (CIT) programs have emerged in more than 2,700 communities across the nation. These programs create connections between law enforcement, mental health providers, hospital emergency services, and individuals with mental illness and their families. Through collaborative community partnerships and intensive training, CITs improve communication, identify mental health resources for those in crisis, and help ensure officer and community safety.

The benefits of CITs are demonstrable. Memphis’ CIT programs helped reduce officer injuries during mental health crisis calls by 80%. Other communities have seen CIT programs reduce the amount of time officers spent on mental health calls, leaving them more time to focus on crime. CIT programs even help save communities money, since community-based treatment is a cheaper alternative to incarceration. Take Detroit: There, a mentally ill inmate costs taxpayers $31,000 a year in jail but only $10,000 a year in community-based mental health treatments.

The Cracks in CIT Programs

Despite the benefits, people still slip through the cracks. It’s great that law enforcement helps redirect individuals with mental health and substance abuse problems away from jail and to places that can actually help. But as soon as a patient is dropped off – whether it’s at an ED, a crisis center, a mental health clinic, a substance abuse center, or a detox center – law enforcement loses track of them. No one knows if the patient walked right out the door once law enforcement left, or if the clinic cleared them two hours later, if they were put on a 72-hour hold, or if they successfully entered treatment.

Chiefs of police would like basic information about when diverted individuals are released so CIT teams can check up on them if a situation warrants – further helping the individual and protecting the community. As of now, this is not possible.

The defense is that HIPAA does not allow for patient information to be transferred to law enforcement. But law enforcement already knows these individuals have mental health or substance abuse issues – they’re the ones who brought them in for treatment!  

How Julota Helps Crisis Intervention Team Programs Be More Effective

Implementing such tracking programs has been nearly impossible because of technological and regulatory barriers. How can community partners and police officers work together when navigating regulations is so difficult? Everyone already has a lot to worry about.

But now there is Julota. Julota is a new software that can help CIT programs boost their success and fully help diverted individuals. With HIPAA, 42 CFR Part 2 (behavioral health, substance abuse), and CJIS (law enforcement, jail facilities) compliance, Julota has none of the interoperability problems you’d typically face with other software, and these community partners can easily send law enforcement the information they need.

Once an individual is dropped off by law enforcement, Julota begins to track them. Police chiefs and CIT teams are informed when an individual is released and walks out the door or when they’ve been put into treatment.

With better tracking comes other benefits as well. Police chiefs finally have data to track the outcomes and benefits of their programs. If the police picked up the same person four times over the past six months, did diverting them into a suitable program keep them off their radar for six months? A year?

Ultimately law enforcement just wants to see the extent to which its jail-diversion programs are working and people are getting the help they need. Julota is the most comprehensive way to do this.

By allowing the electronic sharing of basic critical information between law enforcement and area community services, CIT programs have the potential to be both more effective and easier to implement. Integrating with Julota can be a great step in building a safer and healthier community.