Eilene Flory, currently the crisis intervention training (CIT) coordinator for the Bend, Oregon Police Department, used to be a parole and probation officer with a very specialized caseload: people who had committed crimes primarily due to symptoms of their mental illnesses.
Reading through their files, Flory noticed that a large percentage of the calls involving law enforcement occurred because the probationers and parolees were exhibiting unusual behaviors. What’s more, many of them were arrested specifically because they didn’t follow law enforcement directions.
“The officers in our area hadn’t had any specialized training that would give them an understanding of mental illness, or what it could look like,” Flory said, “and so they saw certain behaviors like not following an officer’s directions as criminal.” Flory had heard about CIT, and she thought it made sense for her community.
The Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office agreed. It convened representatives from law enforcement agencies and mental health organizations in 2009 to present the idea of starting CIT, with the goal of preparing relevant county employees to better handle situations involving people experiencing mental health crises.
Soon after that meeting, Flory was selected as part of a group from the county—some of the group worked at local hospitals, others for behavioral health and law enforcement agencies—who attended the CIT International Conference, where they received CIT training. They then returned to Deschutes County and began setting up a CIT program.
The Bend Police Department endeavors to eventually have every one of its officers CIT-trained; other county law enforcement agencies have set their targets at or around 30 percent of officers. Today, 52 percent of Bend police officers, and between 25 and 30 percent of the local sheriffs’ offices enforcement officers, are CIT-certified. Four firefighters and EMS personnel have also received CIT so far, and the county is starting to train security staff at hospitals and the local university, too.
“The increase in collaboration between agencies has been just amazing,” Flory said. “People are so much more aware of what these mental health crises look like, and of the work everyone else in the field is doing. It’s been a great success.”
Flory described an experience she had when she was still working as a parole and probation officer. She’d received a call from one of her supervisees, who was at home with his girlfriend and her three-month-old baby and was threatening to kill himself. Flory told the man she was contacting a CIT-trained law enforcement officer to respond to the scene and talk to him.
The officer was able to convince the man to go voluntarily to the hospital, where he received the treatment he needed. Nobody was hurt, and nobody was arrested.
“About an hour later,” Flory said, “this young man’s girlfriend called to report the outcome of the officer’s contact. The girlfriend stated many times what a good job the officer did in helping to deescalate her boyfriend.”