RACINE — Over the past four years, Racine County has been training officers and deputies to better handle mental illness in the community.
One-fifth of the Racine police force has already been through Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Training, which law enforcement says has resulted in a drop in the number of arrests and 72-hour emergency detentions, saving the county money and better serving those afflicted.
Now, the department is working on a way to significantly increase the number of officers who are trained, an aggressive approach that may mean asking more of volunteers and temporarily taking officers off the street.
“Many within the community would like to see the number of officers trained in this discipline expanded,” Racine Police Chief Art Howell said in a statement. “While training the entire department would be a challenge, we are currently exploring options to increase the number of trained members.”
The Memphis model
CIT training was first introduced in the county in 2009, a concept that originated in Memphis, Tenn. It was there that the “Memphis Model” was developed after police shot and killed a 27-year-old man who had been acting erratically.
The program is open to law enforcement officers across the county, and those who volunteer for the course are put through a rigorous 40-hour mental health boot camp that includes classroom instruction as well as physical training, ride-alongs, site visits and scenario-based role playing exercises.
The course is taught by volunteer mental health experts, helping to keep costs down. Each of the biannual sessions generally costs between $2,000 and $2,500, a majority of which is spent on meals for students and instructors — primarily paid for by the county, according to Debby Ganaway, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Racine County, which coordinates the training.
In Racine, non-CIT officers may arrive first at a scene for suspected mental illness calls, but a CIT officer on duty may be sent soon after.
“The benefit to this type of training is the officer can go in and instead of just thinking the person is being disorderly, violent or something like that they can recognize an immediate mental health crisis and be able to actually de-escalate it,” Racine police CIT program supervisor Lt. William Macemon said. He explained that in certain cases that can mean the difference between arrest or detention and other more effective methods of treatment.
“Shame on us, we haven’t tracked exact numbers,” Communications Director for Racine County Dispatch and NAMI Racine CIT coordinator Tom Christensen said. “But I’ve had many, many of the officers come back to me and say ‘I was in a situation last night and I was able to use de-escalation technique and we got the person hooked up with a family member. And that would’ve been somebody I would’ve arrested before the class or it definitely would have been an emergency detention before the class.’ We’re keeping people that don’t belong in those settings out of those settings — that’s an incredible cost savings for the county.”
By recognizing mental illness, de-escalating a crisis and diverting a person to mental health resources or a family member, that individual not only receives more effective care but also spares the cost of detaining that person, Christensen said. Doing so also frees up that officer or deputy to respond to another call rather than spend their time at the hospital or in Racine County Jail.
Macemon said he has started to compile statistics for the Racine Police Department and found that of the 563 calls involving a mentally ill person in 2012, only 126 resulted in a 72-hour emergency detention. And while there are no numbers prior to last year to compare those figures to, he said that based on his experience, the percentage of calls involving a mentally ill person that leads to arrest or detention is decreasing as a result of the CIT program.
A new push
Since its introduction in 2009, more than 175 officers and deputies from across the county have completed CIT training, but given the program’s success, Howell would like to see the number of CIT trained personnel within his department — currently 42 out of 201 sworn officers — increase dramatically.
Ganaway said the original intent of the CIT program had always been to get 20 percent of law enforcement throughout the county trained so that each police force would ideally have a CIT trained person on staff at all times.
Having approached that goal, however, NAMI Racine had been considering pivoting away from a biannual course offering, Ganaway said. That changed after last fall’s training ended and Howell approached NAMI Racine and asked them what it would take to train the entire department.
After a number of discussions, Christensen said that NAMI Racine and the department have focused on getting the vast majority of the Racine Police Department’s 126 officer patrol unit trained — 33 of whom have already been through the program.
Christensen said one possibility could be increasing enrollment of classes from between 20 and 24 students up to 26. Class size is limited because of exercises like physical training and role playing, but by expanding the last day of instruction to allow for more physical training, Christensen feels the course could be expanded without affecting quality.
Another possibility would be to add additional courses, but that would require additional commitment from the mental health experts who already have to rearrange patient loads or court dates, Ganaway said. “How much can you ask?”
Additional courses may also require more funding, Ganaway said, whereas increasing current enrollment would only result in a nominal increase in cost.
If Howell and NAMI Racine are successful in instituting this new vision for CIT, it would represent a break from the Memphis Model which calls for a specialized unit of law enforcement officers who volunteer to take the course.
“Training more officers would always be a good idea,” Ganaway said. “What would change about the Memphis Model is the issue of having officers feel they were compelled to take the course or if they felt they had the choice. And that’s maybe a bit of a fine line.”