Crisis team offers ‘different’ style of policing

Kelly Byer

Crisis Intervention Team officers seek to get rid of the tough-cop image, focusing on communication and teamwork instead.

Kent State’s team is part of a national program changing how officers approach people with mental illnesses or stress issues, said Jeffrey Futo, CIT coordinator for Kent State and the Portage County Intervention Team.

“It’s a different style of policing,” he said. “The CIT training is for officers who have good communication skills and know how to think outside the box.”

The CIT program began after an incident in Memphis, Tenn., when police officers shot and killed a person with a mental health issue, Futo said. The community thought the situation wasn’t handled correctly and could have been avoided.

“From there, it spread across the country,” Futo said, adding that Portage county began CIT training in fall 2005.

Kent State has 10 CIT officers who respond to incidents relating to mental illness or stress-related situations, Futo said.

“One of the reasons that we have a specially trained unit to do that is those officers will get those calls more often,” he said. “So, every time the officer goes there, they get better and better at what they do.”

In addition, Kent State Police offered 10 to 12 sessions in the spring to teach faculty how to deal with disruptive students and inform them of services that could assist students with mental illnesses.

Jason McGlothlin, associate professor in the Counseling and Human Development Services program, said crisis intervention is important to other areas of the university as well.

“I think everything in our program has a component revolving around the crisis intervention,” McGlothlin said. “Our national accreditation standards require that we have crisis intervention components in our curriculum.”

CIT officer Kelly Given said she was trained in crisis intervention two years ago.

“As a new officer at the time, I thought it was extremely beneficial just seeing what was out there and learning how to talk to people,” she said.

Given said she has mainly gone on calls relating to stress, such as when students are depressed or suicidal.

“I’ll just go and chat with them for 15 minutes, just see how their life is going, and get to know them,” Given said. “So, that way, in the future they’ll come to me and talk to me again.”

McGlothlin said suicide and threats of suicide occasionally occur on campus.

“I think one of the natural outlets here on campus is crisis in the dorms,” said McGlothlin, whose special research area is suicide prevention. “We’ve had suicide attempts; we’ve had threats and things like that in the dorms.”

After responding to a crisis situation, Given said she follows up with the student by talking with them once a week, or once every two if more time has passed.

“I’ll continue to check on them throughout the rest of the semester,” Given said.

Although the CIT has been around for a while, Portage County didn’t adopt the program until recently but had acted similarly in crisis situations.

“We’ve already had that philosophy within our department,” Futo said. “But we’ve just taken it to the next level.”

The CIT training is a 40-hour week where each hour is spent discussing a different topic such as mental illness or suicide. Trainees role-play scenarios with theater majors and listen to guest speakers, he said.

Futo said he would like to continue improving communication between departments and increase efficiency of the CIT. There are also frequent updates and training sessions for officers.

“We’re not where I want us to be, but I think we’re a lot further ahead than almost any university out there,” he said.

Contact safety reporter Kelly Byer at [email protected].