Mental Health Professionals Team Up With Police
> 5/15/2008 2:52:57 PM

Police officers are thoroughly trained to detain thieves and murderers, but they are often unprepared to deal with disturbances involving the mentally ill. This point was driven home in 1987, when police officers in Memphis, Tennessee shot and killed someone who was attempting to slit his wrists. In response to citizen outrage, Memphis formed the Crisis Intervention Team to ensure that officers are prepared to understand and manage the mental illnesses that they are likely to encounter in the field. Other cities are starting to recognize the value of this program, and the Houston Chronicle carried encouraging news this week about an advancement on the idea.

Houston has already been following the Memphis model for a few years by giving every cadet a basic 40-hour course in handling mental illness. This has reduced injuries both to citizens and police officers, and has resulted in more mentally ill citizens being directed to therapeutic facilities rather than prisons. Now, rather than just following Memphis, the city is innovating with a police unit called the Crisis Intervention Response Team (CIRT).

The CIRT program will pair police officers with mental health professionals. This team will be deployed to any situation that dispatchers believe might benefit from psychological sensitivity. Many people perpetrating criminal activity are confused rather than malicious, and mental health professionals with years of training may be able to talk them down and then see that they receive swift and appropriate treatment rather than a traumatizing arrest. 

Houston will run CIRTs first as a six month pilot program. If the teams are successful, they may transform law enforcement methods in Houston enough to set an example for changes across the country. Sometimes guns and handcuffs are not as potent as sympathetic words.

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