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  • Writer's pictureJoss Burns

Want to make a difference in your community? Consider CIT training.

Updated: Jun 10

Three police officers in classroom training course.

What do you think of when you hear of Crisis Intervention Teams or CIT?

Most of you will assume that it is a police program to train officers to better respond to people who are experiencing mental health crises. This is of course true – police officers do play a vital role in any CIT initiative. But, as Retired Orland Park Police Lt. Troy Siewert explains, it’s not the whole story. 

Although Troy’s company Insightful Crisis Response is designed to help officers deal with their own and others’ mental health, he wants to be clear: CIT is for everyone.

What are Crisis Intervention Teams?

Although the de facto program is often police trained in mental health response, Troy would like to use the success of the police involvement to encourage others to embrace CIT training. 

“There is such a misconception about what CIT is,” Troy says. “CIT at its core, its very inception, was meant to be a community program, not a law enforcement program. It started in 1988 in Memphis Tennessee. Different stakeholders from the community were brought together to find a way to bring treatment to people who needed it so they didn't go into crisis.”  

In fact, due to its founding, CIT is sometimes even known as the "Memphis Model." And, as Troy attests, the purpose was to help “individuals who live with mental illness and/or addiction disorders, their families, and other partners to improve community responses to mental health crises.”

A professional image of Retired Orland Park, IL, Police Lieutenant Troy Siewert
Ret. Lt. Troy Siewert

Transforming police practices with CIT

In other words, the wider community should be highly involved with CIT – to a greater degree than they currently are. After all, CIT training in a police context was not a foregone conclusion. Troy himself was the mastermind behind the first CIT team in the Orland Park police department back in 2015. 

And this was no easy feat. “The conversation was nowhere near where it is today,” Troy admits. He wasn’t aware of any agency who was doing something similar with CIT at that time and his initiative was met with some resistance. “People feel comfortable doing what they’ve always done,” as Troy puts it.

But once the first officers started being trained, a notable shift took place. The untrained officers, as it turned out, were happy to have someone along who could take the lead in mental health-related situations. Slowly, they started being impressed by the success they were having, particularly with uncommunicative or historically “difficult” cases.  

Failures to address individual needs

While we may go into a situation with the best intentions, our actions can often make it worse. As Troy says, this is just as true for the police force as it is for any member of the community confronted by a mental health crisis. 

“The worst way to respond that causes most issues is problem solving,” Troy explains. “So many of us walk into a situation, we identify what the problem is, and we start offering solutions on how to make it better.”

This seems like a good approach as our goal as empathetic people is to make others feel better. But this doesn’t always work as planned. Troy says, when we do this, “we are failing to empathize and understand how they got to that position.” As a response, the person may shut down or even react badly. 

The snowball effect of success

Instead, Troy began looking for a new way to approach mental health situations and set up the CIT training initiative. The police effort under Troy’s leadership became a huge success. Troy describes it as something of a snowball effect. By training staff in CIT best practices, they noticed a reduction in calls overall. 

This caught the attention of supervisors, who reported it to the mayor and the administrator, who wanted the public to know about it, which gathered media attention. There was also the welcome knock-on effect of more funding being directed at the program due to this. When Troy left, they had over 30 officers trained and they also helped other departments to develop their own initiatives. 

Bringing CIT to the wider community

As Troy is a retired law enforcement officer, much of his time is spent helping his former colleagues to get access to the training they need – for themselves and for those they serve. He takes great pride in noting that there has been a reduction in police death by suicide thanks to a greater emphasis on mental health training and peer-to-peer initiatives

But he’s also passionate about getting more people outside of the police force involved in CIT. As he says, “we need to have the whole community step up: mental health providers, mental health advocacy associations, community members, whether civic or public, to work as a team to direct people to get their treatment.” 

Shifting perspectives to improve understanding

At a base level, Troy likes to distill CIT into a neat concept of shifting perspectives. “So much has to do with perspective,” he says. When climbing the ladder in the police department, he experienced the job from different perspectives and realized that preconceived notions don’t hold up under scrutiny. 

The same is true for working with people, whether they suffer from mental health disorders or not. You need to put yourself in their shoes and understand what they are going through. By showing police officers appreciation, you can instill a positive idea that reverberates throughout their work and their interactions with the public. By listening to the person who is suffering with their mental health, you can support them as they go through a difficult time. 

By changing your perspective, you can achieve a lot. And the best way to achieve this is through teamwork and exposure to others. 

No matter what role you play in society, you can become part of the CIT initiative or similar programs like the Cook County Treatment Response Team (TRT). Through training, you can get new perspectives and help support the most vulnerable people in our society. 

If you’d like to contribute to your community, please contact us for more information and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.

The MHAI Talks  logo. An early 20th century-style microphone with MHAI logo to the left of the show's tagline in gray and black, Hope Worth Sharing.

Listen to Troy Siewert and MHAI's Program Director Morayo Orija discuss CIT on MHAI Talks. Click here to listen to the podcast.


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