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City of Cleveland, Cleveland Police Department

Proposal for new policies for police crisis intervention teams revealed

by Chuck Hoven

(Plain Press, January 2017) The City of Cleveland proposed policies for its Crisis Intervention Teams Program were revealed at a Community Forum on December 13 at Urban Community School at 4909 Lorain Avenue. In addition to reviewing drafts of the new policy, residents and stakeholders were given the opportunity to make suggestions on how to improve the policies prior to their submission to United States District Court Judge Solomon Oliver for final approval.

The proposed new Cleveland Division of Police policies would govern how police officers respond to persons experiencing a mental health or substance abuse crisis. A panel involved in the presentation said the new policies should result in safer interactions between mental health consumers and police, increase referrals to mental health services and treatment programs, and reduce interactions with the criminal justice system. The panel noted that police officers selected from volunteers to the Crisis Intervention Teams (CIT) would receive 40 hours of specialized training in crisis intervention. The Cleveland Division of Police would aim to have CIT officers available 24/7 to respond to crisis situations throughout the City of Cleveland. The CIT program would also collect data on all interactions with persons in crisis, and a Mental Health Response Advisory Committee would use the data to continually monitor and improve the program.

Cleveland will put its own stamp on a Crisis Intervention Team strategy that relies on community support, direction, and advice says Dr. Randolph Dupont, a Consent Decree Monitoring Team Member, Professor and Clinical Psychologist in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice of the School of Urban Affairs and Public Policy at the University of Memphis. He said the proposed policy will serve a model for other cities.

The new policies and procedures largely focus on Cleveland Division of Police’s Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Program and Crisis Intervention Team Response. The CIT Program is designed to respond to individuals in crisis in situations where “an individual’s safety and health are threatened by behavioral health challenges, to include mental illness, developmental disabilities, substance use, or overwhelming stressors.”

As part of the Consent Decree between the Cleveland Division of Police with the United States Department of Justice, the Cleveland Division of Police agreed to make changes in its general police orders. One of the general police orders it agreed to change was on Handling the Mentally Ill Population. In collaboration with the City of Cleveland, the Department of Justice, the Cleveland Police Monitoring Team, the Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services (ADAMHS) Board of Cuyahoga County and the Mental Health Response Advisory Committee, the Cleveland Division of Police revised its policies on how to respond to mental health crises in their entirety.

Dr. Dupont explained that under the new policy, specially trained Crisis Intervention Team police officers will become advocates for individuals in crisis when they determine that treatment makes much more sense than jail. He indicated that in situations where treatment is pursued rather than jail, individuals experiencing a crisis involving a serious mental illness such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, major depression or addiction are much more likely to stay in treatment and receive a better continuity of care. Dr. Dupont said that the Crisis Intervention Team can make a “positive impact – a big difference in a short time.”

Dr. Dupont outlined several unique elements of Cleveland’s new policy recommended by the Mental Health Response Advisory Committee (MHRAC) set up with the help of the Alcohol Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services (ADAMHS) Board of Cuyahoga County. He said the policy puts the needs of the individual first while focusing on safety for all involved in the interaction – the person in crisis, community members and the responding police officer. The tone of the interaction is changed by the policy, he said, with Crisis Intervention Team officer seeking to help the person in need. Cleveland has also developed an age specific policy to respond appropriately to juveniles in crisis. Also, there is flexibility in the way persons in crisis are transported to needed services, said Dupont. Another provision of the new policy mandates that police cannot resort to use of force just for expediency.

Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Mental Health Court Judge Hollie Gallagher, who serves as Co-Chair of the MHRAC Policy Committee, noted the participation of the Cleveland Division of Police, the City of Cleveland, Community Advocates for the Mentally Ill, the legal community, the United States Department of Justice and members of the Monitoring Team in helping to develop the policy recommendations.

Judge Gallagher explained some of the goals of Crisis Intervention Team training of Cleveland Police Officers. She said officers training will help them to de-escalate crisis situations, increase the understanding of police about persons experiencing a crisis and improve trust between the responding officer and the person in crisis. Judge Gallagher said that in developing the policy, the MHRAC Policy Committee looked at programs in 19 other cities and came up with a policy that is unique to Cleveland.

Gallagher said the committee incorporated comments from community members made during a public comment session in the spring. She said community members called for police officers to de-escalate situations – using as little force as possible. Respond to individuals in crisis in a professional manner. They expected officers to show compassion and respect to individuals in crisis and avoid stigmatization. They did not want Law Enforcement Officers to be judgmental, and wanted them to respect the human dignity of the person experiencing a crisis. Gallagher reported that community members asked that the police officers take their time in these situations, be less aggressive and identify themselves as Crisis Intervention Team officers.

Cleveland Division of Police Deputy Chief Joellen O’ Neill said the policies governing the handling of the Mentally Il and Crisis Intervention will be completely new when the proposed policies are approved. She said a veteran police officer, Captain James Purcell has been named as the Crisis Intervention Team Coordinator. She said, Captain Purcell, in addition to 28 years in the Cleveland Division of Police, has a degree in psychology and prior to becoming a police officer, worked at the mental health agency, Bridgeway. Deputy Chief O’ Neil said Captain Purcell will be charged with staffing enough CIT officers to cover the city of Cleveland 24 hours a day, seven days a week. She said CIT officers will be responsible for deciding whether to take an individual to a hospital or to jail. She said CIT officers will have a stat sheet to fill out to document every interaction with a Mental Health Consumer.

Crisis Intervention Team Program Officer Carole Ballard, a member of the ADAMHS Board of Cuyahoga County, said that Crisis Intervention Team members and individuals and family member involved in a mental health crisis need to learn to trust one another. She said they want the same outcome. She said safety, respect and trust are key elements of the new policy. Ballard noted the transparency in the new policy – saying it is a work in progress with information being exchanged between law enforcement and the treatment community to help continually improve the program. She noted one effort that involves creating a treatment card for each police district with telephone numbers and addresses of mental health services and treatment programs available in each district.

At the December 13 forum at Urban Community School, one of two public forums held on the new policies, residents and stakeholders offered suggestions to incorporate in the policies. They suggested that Crisis Intervention Teams have the capability of sending CIT members to the scene when necessary that can address unique bilingual, cultural or gender sensitivities or needs of the person experiencing a mental health crisis. They suggested that a Continuing Education Unit course be developed for behavioral health professionals that puts them through the same CIT training that police officers experience so they are aware of what police officers are equipped to do in a crisis. Members of the Mobile Crisis Unit that travel with Second District CIT officers to the scene of a mental health crisis, suggested the expansion of that program to the entire City of Cleveland.

Another suggestion was that CIT officers have a bigger badge or a different color shirt to make sure they are clearly identifiable in a crisis. Other suggestions involved the communication of helpful information by dispatchers about whether family members or friends will be of help or hindrance in a crisis. A concern was expressed about what happens when a situation has already escalated before the CIT officers have arrived, and how those officers communicate with officers on the scene to avoid further escalation.

Concern was expressed that CIT officers have quarterly debriefing sessions and other breaks to avoid getting burned out.

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