The City of Bath Police Department has signed an agreement NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Maine to implement a Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) Program for its officers.
CIT is the “gold standard” for training officers to work with individuals impacted by mental health conditions; the model was developed in 1988 following the fatal shooting of a man with a history of mental illness and substance use by a police officer in Memphis, Tennessee. The CIT Model has been successfully utilized in law enforcement agencies worldwide to safely and effectively address the needs of persons with mental health conditions, link them to appropriate resources, and divert them from the criminal justice system when appropriate.
Field participated in NAMI Maine’s 40-hour CIT class in 2000. He feels the training is “invaluable” and hopes to have at least half of his officers CIT Certified in the next two years.
“Last year we had 185 adult mental health calls and 21 adolescent calls,” Field said. “A lot of people are suffering. I think it’s important that our officers know how to handle those calls when they arrive on scene.”
To date, nine Bath police officers have taken the CIT course, two have taken an eight-hour course in child crisis training, and eight have taken the Maine State Police Academy’s eight-hour mental health training.
The agreement not only requires voluntary CIT training for selected officers but also the development and implementation of mental health policies. Such policies must speak to how calls involving a person with a mental health condition are to be handled, and how department specific data collection will occur. The agreement also requires that certain HIPAA-compliant data points be shared with NAMI Maine on a quarterly basis, like whether a diagnosis was known and whether a referral for services was made. The data will be used to identify training needs for officers and funding gaps for the mental health system.
Since Bath began collecting data in November of 2020, officers have responded to 40 mental health calls. Field said that at least one officer on every one of those calls had mental health training but that, unfortunately, almost all the individuals were transported to the ED due to lack of immediate access to mental health services.
“It’s too bad because the hospitals are so busy – sometimes the person can be waiting to be placed for hours because there are not enough mental health beds available in the State. That can add to the trauma,” Field said.
Hannah Longley, LCSW, Director of Community Programs for NAMI Maine, is working with around 50 police departments across the state to implement the CIT Program. Departments report to one of eight regional councils; Bath is part of Region 6.
“I love working with Chief Field and Sheriff (Joel) Merry,” said Longley. “Sheriff Merry co-chairs the Region 6 CIT Council and we are grateful to have his support.”
Longley explained that, nationwide, county jails have become the biggest providers of mental health services due a lack of community services. Using the data police departments are now collecting, NAMI Maine will continue to advocate the Maine legislature for increased mental health funding. Longley and Field share the hope that this partnership will give police departments the skills they need to handle a mental health crisis and help divert individuals from the criminal justice system.