Police Crisis Intervention & The Illinois Model

Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training has received a lot of attention lately, as it should. Police officers are too often tasked with picking up where a broken mental healthcare system left off. Law enforcement has been doing a less-than-stellar job with this function. It only makes sense that, if these mental health crises are going to be shoved off to the police as often as they are, our officers receive training and education in how to respond most effectively.

Sadly, our police officers are not being trained properly. The current CIT model is not up-to-task.

In this blog post, I’m going to make some suggestions to make the current CIT models even better. It involves a comprehensive approach using The Illinois Model™.

What is CIT?

Maybe you shouldn’t be reading this article if you don’t know exactly what the police Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) program is about. Regardless, let me give an extremely abbreviated (and crude) summary:

Crisis Intervention is a function within police departments where police officers have contact with or respond to people in various types of “crisis” — whether as a traffic law violator, a crime victim, a crime witness, a suspect, a violent attacker, a party of a domestic disturbance, a person in a state of medical emergency, a person reported to be “acting suspiciously” or “acting strangely.” The profile of a person in crisis can take many forms: mild to severe mental illness; cognitive issues; neuro-atypical; Autism; social/behavioral issues; Alzheimers; suicidal/homicidal persons; developmental disability; emotional distress; an otherwise healthy person having a really bad day. (For the sake of brevity, I refer to these collectively as “persons in crisis,” even if the person may not be in a true state of emergency crisis.)
Each person has various levels of “functioning” in the community. (READ: “being normal”) As such, certain attention is drawn to their behavior – whether from a police officer or a concerned citizen calling 911. And because the police officer is being put into a situation with  limited information, history, or background on the person in question, police officers may make inferences, assumptions, and decisions – that lead to less-than-ideal actions. To be completely blunt, even with the best of training and education, it’s often difficult to figure out if a person is disabled or in a state of crisis….or just being a non-compliant, deceptive asshole.
So…to help with the problems of how police interact with those persons in crisis, training programs were designed. The main program has roots in the Memphis, Tennessee, Police Department in the 1980s. What does the program look like? Well there isn’t a simple cookie-cutter answer to that. There is a lot of variety in quality and curriculum. But here are some of the general themes and objectives:
  • a better outcome will occur if police officers better understand the person’s state;
  • police officers need to first recognize a person’s state (not a medical diagnosis!);
  • police officers need tactics and techniques to effectively communicate with a person in crisis;
  • police officers need relationships with non-criminal justice system resources, groups, and advocates to help;
  • there will be more compliance from a person in crisis if the officer shows trust, empathy, and understanding.
Most CIT training programs are 5-days long (a rather significant time and financial commitment for a veteran officer and his/her agency). They include many stakeholders in the community — advocacy organizations, group home coordinators, clinicians, doctors, prosecutors — each with an expertise in a specific disorder, disability, illness, etc. The training programs spark the relationships between new CIT police officers and the resources that these police officers can call on to help during a simple field contact, a non-emergency, or a full-blown emergency crisis.
This is CIT in a nutshell. It’s a really decent philosophy. And much needed for police officers. All police officers.

What’s missing in CIT?

Not enough consistency. Imagine bringing a bunch of specialists together – each who know a tremendous amount in their own field, but very little in anyone else’s field. Then imagine each of these people or groups dropping in and interacting with a group of police officers for two to three hours each, over the course of a 40-hour week.
Each of the modules tend to be extremely well-planned, well-intent, and informational. But few show a consistency or relatedness to the  previous or the next. Each segment is a stand-alone piece. It’s a silo approach – with minimal cross-pollination.
Lack of problem-solving and decision processing. The CIT training program is committed to solid information and resources for police officers. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen the same commitment to giving the student officers a realistic, safe, time-sensitive, or legally defensible problem-solving or decision-making model. First off, few of the instructors come from a police background; they come from clinics, and hospitals, and medical offices. I also contend this lack of decision-making emphasis has a lot to do with an inexperience of clinicians and advocates in the realm of human performance science (AKA: human factors). It also puts experts with arguably little knowledge of adult learning into a teaching position (which tends to create friction in the learning process). But it lastly brings to light the next point…..
Ignorance of case law. Now let’s address what can be the first of two significant shortcomings: the US Constitution. Clinicians, pharmacologists, group home volunteers, Autism caregivers —- these are citizens who are not bound by the US Constitution in the way that a government police officer is. As such, the rules are different. Sometimes radically so. A nurse or community volunteer does not operate under the same privacy and freedom issues with the Fourth Amendment’s rights for citizens…and constraints on police powers.
Strategic and tactical thinking. Related to a lack of problem-solving abilities, is the second serious shortcoming: a lack of teaching strategic thinking over that of tactical thinking. STRATEGY and TACTICS are clearly related to each other — but they are different. Strategic thinking is far more important to a successful outcome than tactical thinking. Simply, clinical experts do not understand or appreciate the difference. Sadly, neither do most police officers.

How does The Illinois Model relate to these shortcomings?

The Illinois Model is a universal law enforcement operational decision-making tool. It prioritizes police response in a tiered visual representation:

It is an adaptive, fluid, flexible, cyclical (non-linear) decision-making and problem-solving process. It puts the decision-maker or police problem-solver into a position to properly prioritize many factors of even a dangerous, rapidly-evolving police incident. The purpose of this article is not to describe The Illinois Model (I’ve done that plenty thoroughly already); it’s to link the model to CIT…or rather….CIT to the model!!
I want to suggest some of the most basic applications to CIT. (I recommend having a scatterchart or pocket card at your side when going through this portion.)
PRIORITY OF LIFE. What is the problem? How can police officers have better awareness or recognition of a person in crisis? or a disability? or state of mind? What questions can be asked from others/witnesses/family that give the officer a better picture of the situation, threats, and dangers? How else does the officer gather intel? Besides the reported crime, what is a bigger underlying issue? (Read this blog post for more on the Priority of Life and CIT.)
MISSION/OBJECTIVE. What are the Fourth Amendment issues RIGHT NOW? Is there legal justification for a detention or frisk? or handcuffing? What resolution would be a success? What resources or referrals can be made? What is the desired or preferred outcome? Basically, what the heck are we trying to accomplish RIGHT NOW?
STRATEGY/TACTICS. How urgent is the situation? What timeline are police officers operating on? How close (proximity) are the officers? What tone, attitude, posturing, intimidation, compassion do the officers display? How much force or intrusion will be or is Constitutionally permitted (as well as department policy)? How much patience or restraint should the officer use? Or should the officer use decisive, overwhelming control and force RIGHT NOW? (Read this blog post on more on Operational Philosophy.)
TEAM SKILLS. How do various officers on scene work together? Tactically, but also regarding gathering information, making decisions, consulting experts, completing legal paperwork (involuntary admission to hospital)? Do all officers understand the problem, goal, and strategy/plan at the moment?
INDIVIDUAL SKILLS & EQUIPMENT. Are the right officers with the right skills performing the appropriate functions? Are the right pieces of equipment on scene, such as ambulance, restraint gear (handcuffs, hobbles, strapping, backboard), Taser, less-lethal beanbags, field sedatives with paramedics? Are plainclothes officers better suited to handle the crisis? Are officers with children better fit to talk to children? Are married, older, gray-haired officers better prepared to deal with older persons?
Crisis Intervention neatly fits within The Illinois Model….especially so for police officers and agencies that have already adopted the model as an operational tool. In some places, it’s a consistent, integrated, generalized, and universal processthat is already ingrained into officers’ minds.

Recommended Program Design

Here are some basic, but drastic recommendations:
  • The Illinois Model is used as basic foundational template for the course and the operational program;
  • each and every subject matter expert (who teaches at CIT class) tweaks his/her material to fit into The Illinois Model tiers and visualization – using it as an introductory piece to their material;
  • the instructors more clearly understand “non-linear, open-loop, feedback rich environments” and the adaptive systems type of thinking, as well as the above Rules & Creativity Spectrum theory;
  • the instructors more clearly understand (even superficially) Constitutional law and police strategy and tactics;
  • each module or block of instruction more efficiently relates to each other, with a thick and strong common thread;
  • the training program adheres to adult learning theory; uses problem-solving and decision-making as a foundation; relies upon concept-based training and educational methods.
These are not subtle changes I suggest. Nor is the CIT world the only one in which I make these recommendations. I find many of the same concerns and obstacles in other police training sectors: basic recruit academy; firearms; tactics; medical aid; incident commanduse of force law; traffic stops; active killer response.
Until those of us in the CIT and police trainer “industries” can agree that the problems with law enforcement and persons in crisis is bigger than CIT, then we won’t make nearly the progress that our communities deserve. I want to be a part of the change. Part of the solution.

My Parting Message

To CIT trainers: I hope you do NOT find this article offensive. I write it in hopes you see your value in law enforcement, but also describe the uphill battle you face. I hope the suggestions I make here spark some discussion about how you must fit within something larger than you — the law enforcement community, and its trainer sub-community. You have to be willing to make adjustments for your program to really become a philosophy and fit within the mental and emotional wiring of police officers. Please reach out to me with any questions or critiques about this article.
To CIT officers: Thank you for your service to vulnerable community members. Be sure you understand how your actions are bound by Constitutional restraints – decisions and actions that are too often called into question (and rightly so!). Continue to seek training in strategic and tactical issues in conjunction with CIT-specific courses. Let me help you find them in your area.
To citizens everywhere: There are those of us on the inside of law enforcement who are working our tails off trying to make our training and education better. It’s an extremely slow process. I hope The Illinois Model continues within police training and operations. I truly see it as THE ANSWER to a police industry who seems to be slowing losing community support and trust. (Yes, I realize how narcissistic that might sound.) Conversely, we will simply never be able to stop mistakes, accidents, bad decisions, and misunderstandings. It’s our environment and a reality that we need YOU to understand too. Come find me if I can help with any questions or concerns you have.
To our vulnerable community members: We are here to help you. Some of us are working even harder to help those officers who are here to help you. I pledge understanding, restraint, and patience. I am doing what I can to teach police officers how to position themselves (physically/tactically, mentally/investigative, and emotionally/socially) to reduce dangers/fears and maximize information collection, processing, and decision-making. We care.
The challenges we face are complex. We need purposefully designed training, education, policy, and processes to prepare police officers to handle the challenges. I argue The Illinois Model fits the bill where current CIT leaves off.

Lou Hayes, Jr. is a police training unit supervisor in suburban Chicago, and certified Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) officer. He studies human performance & decision-making, creativity, emotional intelligence, and adaptability. Follow Lou on Twitter at @LouHayesJr


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