Training Methods and Best Practices in Crisis Intervention Techniques for Law Enforcement

The Importance of Training in Crisis Intervention

Being a law enforcement officer can be a very stressful job. According to research out of the University of Minnesota, police stressors fall into four categories: 1) stresses inherent in police work, 2) stresses arising from internal policies and procedures, 2) external stresses from the criminal justice system and political climate, and 4) internal stresses within individual officers. This article will delve into the best practices in crisis intervention

Certain situations, such as dealing with an armed hostage situation or a mental health crisis, are more likely to involve one or multiple sources of the above stress. In recent years, law enforcement programs have focused on how they can best respond to individuals suffering from a mental health crisis to provide the best treatment for that individual while also ensuring officer safety and reducing officer stress.

Crisis Intervention Training Programs

For law enforcement departments frequently encountering high-stress situations, implementing the best practices in crisis intervention has demonstrated its effectiveness as a stress management procedure. Coined in 1988 in Memphis, the term’ Crisis Intervention Team’ has gained significant recognition, and the CIT model has been widely embraced across the nation.

Because of the lack of emergency mental health services across the United States, law enforcement officers are often the first and only responder to most crises. A Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) is a community-based program that builds connections between law enforcement, mental health providers, hospital emergency services, and individuals with mental illness and their families. This collaborative approach, which values the input and involvement of all stakeholders, is the key to the success of a CIT program.

Implementing the best practices for crisis intervention involves a structured process. The first step is to establish a network of relationships within the community. This network should encompass representatives from all agencies that individuals with mental health concerns are likely to interact with, including law enforcement, mental health providers, emergency housing assistance, and substance abuse programs.

The second step requires these organizations’ leaders to commit to solving community crisis issues. Third, you need a comprehensive understanding of your existing community-wide response to mental health crises. This involves identifying all available resources and resource gaps.

The fourth step requires overhauling the crisis response infrastructure. This includes increased data collection, staffing, and new policies and procedures.

The fifth step is the most widely known resource: the CIT training program for law enforcement professionals and 911 dispatchers. This is most often an intensive five-day training. This training aims to increase officers’ awareness of mental health issues and knowledge of available community resources. This training program is available for purchase online and can be customized to your local needs.

One of the most impactful portions of this training program has been consistently reported as the Sharing Your Story with Law Enforcement (SYSLE) presentation program.  This is a portion of CIT officer training where individuals and families struggling with mental illness present stories of lived experiences to law enforcement officers. These stories provide officers an opportunity to hear the experiences of individuals who experienced being in crisis and may have interacted with law enforcement as a result but are now living well with mental illness. These stories help increase understanding and empathy, which, in turn, dramatically improves crisis response.

The final step in a successful CIT program is to honor a commitment to ongoing improvement among your community partners. The data collected from the first few years of a CIT program will supply much information on how communities meet individual needs. A successful CIT program requires leaders who will review this data to ensure that new improvements are continuously being made to serve its vulnerable populations best.

Having the best practices in crisis intervention in place has shown both financial and community-building benefits. Financial benefits result from officers reducing the amount of time spent on mental health calls and diverting individuals from local jails to mental health treatment programs. Community-building benefits result from law enforcement officers having improved knowledge and attitudes. 

Co-Responder Programs

Another approach for responding to individuals experiencing a mental health crisis is a Co-Responder Program. Co-responder programs function by pairing a law enforcement officer with a mental health professional and having this pair respond to mental health crises together. In many communities, EMS and fire are part of the co-responder equation.

There is a great deal of variety in how Co-Responder programs have been implemented due to differing funding and staffing constraints. For example, some communities have these co-responding units act as primary or secondary response teams. Additionally, in some communities, these units respond across the jurisdiction, and in others, their efforts are focused on specific high-need areas. Some communities have co-responder units available at all times, while other jurisdictions may only offer these services for a set number of hours per day.

No matter how a community implements the specifics of its Co-Responder Program, the goal remains the same. That goal is to enhance civilian and officer safety during interactions, develop partnerships with the mental health system to facilitate diversion and connect people experiencing behavioral health crises to resources and services.

Co-responder programs have only been utilized since the late 1990s but have already shown great benefits. The two most significant benefits that have been reported are the reduced strain on the criminal justice system, resulting from fewer mentally ill individuals being detained at local jails and officers spending less time on mental health-related calls, and better ties to community services, with increased collaboration between law enforcement and mental health care providers.

One example of a successful Co-Responder Program is AllHealth Network in Arapahoe County, Colorado. AllHealth’s team consists of 10 licensed clinicians who are co-responders. Each team member has practiced for at least two years and receives extensive on-the-job training.

AllHealth has had a massively beneficial impact on its local community. Reductions have been found in the decreased amount of individuals suffering from mental health crises booked in Arapahoe County Jail.  The law enforcement training has been the most significant factor in these reduced booking numbers. “It teaches them how to respond to individuals who are experiencing a behavioral health crisis so that they’re more prepared in the situation,” she asserted. “It also teaches them a lot about de-escalation … and how to interact with a person who might be having a mental health or substance use crisis.” said Cynthia Grant, PhD, MBA, LCSW, chief clinical officer.

Other benefits of the installation of AllHealth’s Co-Responder Program are:

  • Approximately 40% of calls result in a crisis intervention strategy that does not require transportation to an emergency department or jail
  • Secondary response follow-ups result in nearly 70% of the clients being connected to mental health services
  • The estimated cost reduction per year per co-responder is $350,000 (based on an average of 60 in-person contacts per month).

Benefits of Using a Data-Driven Program for Your Crisis Response

One of the most significant concerns in a crisis response program is the collaboration and communication between law enforcement and mental health professionals.

There are several ways to facilitate this communication, but choosing a cloud-based, data-driven program offers significant benefits. Many existing crisis programs have struggled to close gaps and meet individual needs in a follow-up after a crisis is experienced. Reliable and secure data sharing is the easiest way to solve these issues.

A data-sharing platform allows law enforcement and mental health professionals to connect on their devices in real-time, allowing them to access data or update records in the field.

Data-sharing platforms, such as Julota, can also help eliminate the concern for data privacy and compliance with federal and state privacy laws.

Reliable data collection when adding the best practices for crisis intervention or co-responder programs may help substantially secure additional grant funding and report to lawmakers and policymakers. Often, communities know their program is making a difference but lack the data to support this claim. Julota allows you to custom-create the data collection field to help your community best.

One of the other benefits of a cloud-based program is that other agencies, apart from law enforcement and emergency mental health providers, can be involved in data sharing. By incorporating other agencies, you can access a vulnerable population before they interact with law enforcement. This broader data-sharing practice will best support your community in crafting policy solutions for more significant issues that require a multi-agency approach.

If you think your community could benefit from a cloud-based platform to support your Crisis Intervention Team or Co-Responder Program, click here to schedule a demo of the Julota Law Enforcement Behavioral Health platform.