Budget cuts hamper Crisis Intervention Team training

By Eric Anderson

University police officer Brian Tison has trained most of the police officers in the state of Illinois to become certified as a Crisis Intervention Team, or CIT.

The University Police Department staffs a CIT to respond to mentally unstable individuals who threaten to harm themselves or others.

This past fall, however, state budget cuts had stopped the CIT training.

“Illinois is very bad in terms of mental health,” Tison said. “One of the first things that gets funding pulled is mental health mandates.”

Tison said CIT-trained officers have stopped suicides in the midst of when they were happening. Tison said he once stopped a man from jumping off a parking garage.

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“We have gotten thank-yous from people who have been rescued,” he said.

The cut funding will not affect the University staffing of five CIT officers, but it has affected the amount of classes being held.

“Normally, I teach 40-hour classes five to six times per year,” Tison said. “Last fall there were none.”

The class trains officers about various mental illnesses, the symptoms of mental illnesses and how to talk to people.

It also instructs officers how to fill out a petition for involuntary commission, the legal aspects of CIT response and how to identify medications.

“A CIT officer can see Valium and know what it’s for,” he said.

Despite the cut funding, an 8-hour abridged version of the class is still being taught.

Before the inception of CIT at the University in 2004, police had to contact on-call crisis workers at the Champaign County Center of Mental Health.

“Now we pretty much take care of all of it,” Tison said. “We’re done in 30 to 45 minutes instead of three to four hours.”

CIT uses a multi-regional approach that applies to five different areas in East Central Illinois: the University, Urbana, Rantoul, Parkland and the Champaign County Sheriff’s Department.

The CIT has a mutual-aid policy, which means officers can assist in any of the regions.

“If you need (CIT help), you call, and we’ll send it,” Tison said.

Jeff Christensen, chief of University police, said officers who have taken the 40-hour course can provide an immediate response to calls that deal with mental disturbance.

“(CIT) is very community based,” Christensen said. “I can tell you from experience, looking at these incidents, that (CIT) is a very effective way to respond to calls to individuals who have a mental illness.”

Christensen added that the frequency of calls that demand a CIT officer varies, but the bulk of calls include suicide attempts, disorderly conduct and sometimes suspicious behavior.

“We handle a lot of people who are having suicidal thoughts, or maybe we get a call from a friend that they’re on Facebook with someone who says they’re going to kill themselves,” Tison said.

Fortunately, Tison credits the University for their wholehearted support of CIT despite monetary struggles.

“We are one of the model University police departments in the country for dealing with this type of thing,” Tison said.

“We are way ahead of the curve.”

Mental Health Statistics

  • 10,000 appointments in 2006-2007 (not including alcohol and drug related therapy)
  • 3,000 appointments done in group therapy in 20 different groups (not including alcohol and drug related therapy)
  • Top reason for appointments: anxiety, stress and depression
  • 2,500 students sought drug and alcohol therapy

Source: Greg Lambeth, Ph.D, Clinical Psychologist, Counseling Center at the University of Illinois

Interesting Trends

  • Demand for clinical services by students has increased (not only at the University, but nationally). More students are on medication.
  • 1995: 6 students at the University needed accommodations for ADHD
  • 2005-2006: 342 students needed accommodations for ADHD

Source: Greg Lambeth, Ph.D, Clinical Psychologist, Counseling Center at the University of Illinois