Resentful officers dub mental health program ‘hug-a-thug’ database concepts 6th edition

Houston’s department has five programs aimed at helping people in psychiatric crisis avoid arrest — including a homeless outreach team, a team dedicated to identifying “chronic consumers” of police time and a team of 10 officers who are paired with mental health counselors to go out on calls for help.

“For these officers, valuable training time and resources may not only be wasted on them if they are mandated to sit through the 40-hour course, but their attitudes can disrupt the class,” the experts warn. “Even worse, an agency may send an officer who is not interested or does not have the right disposition.”

Cochran and the other board members say they support all officers receiving training in more general matters, such as mental health awareness and de-escalation. They say mental health first-aid, which provides training on the signs and symptoms of mental illness and how to best approach people in crisis, is a better choice for all officers than CIT.


In Memphis, where CIT was founded, just 15% of the officers are CIT-trained. Officials there have reported a steady reduction in the number of people with mental illness injured by police. They’ve also seen a drop in arrests of people with mental illness.

“Everybody wants to feel comfortable that new training is being introduced with the expectation that we’re all going to live happily ever after,” said Cochran. “It’s a quick fix — the other things that have to take place are a little more challenging.” Sociologist warns the mayor

Amy Watson, a University of Illinois sociologist, said she winced when she saw the news of Barrett’s pledge to train all Milwaukee officers. In early January 2015, she dashed off an email to the mayor warning him that he was going about this all wrong.

That’s what happened in Portland, Ore. Many officers there considered a CIT assignment a burden, and officers tapped for duty looked at their role as nothing more than transporting people in crisis to the hospital, Watson said. Tensions between resentful officers and people with mental illness flared. Nine people with mental illness were killed in six years.

Chasse, who suffered from delusions, was beaten by officers, sustaining over 20 broken bones, a punctured lung and a torn spleen. After police initially denied him medical attention, he was put in the back of a police cruiser where he died on the way to the hospital.

In one instance, officers repeatedly tased a naked man in his own apartment for not complying with commands and reportedly running at the officers. It turned out he was not attacking them — nor was he mentally ill. He was in diabetic shock, and coming to the officers for help.

Investigators concluded later that year that the decision to give all new officers CIT training had backfired. Rather than building empathy towards those with mental illnesses, it seemed to foster a culture of widespread animosity and resentment throughout the department.

The investigation led to a 2012 settlement between the Department of Justice and the city of Portland. Reforms mandated by the agreement were wide ranging: stricter policies on when to use force and better coordination with mental health organizations.

Milwaukee officials are investigating the violent arrest last month of a man with mental illness that landed him and four officers in the hospital. Police repeatedly kicked the man in the head as he fought arrest. A video of the confrontation went viral within hours.

It’s impossible to say precisely how many people with mental illness are shot and killed by police each year. The federal government does not track fatal police shootings of any kind. The Bureau of Justice Statistics launched plans to develop such a database but suspended the project indefinitely last fall.

Several privately-compiled databases put the number of people killed by police nationwide at roughly 1,000 each year. Mental health advocates estimate that as many as half of those killed had serious mental illness. Trainer sees officers sleeping, playing on phones

Brenda Wesley, then director of education and outreach for the Milwaukee chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, got so upset with the disrespect she felt from some officers that she quit. Ultimately, the mental health advocacy group volunteers were eliminated from the training altogether. The CIT program is now handled internally by police. Key police personnel leave program

Liam Looney, who coordinated the program, is no longer a part of it. Neither is Chad Stiles, the officer who helped develop the department program that pairs police with psychologists. Lt. Cassandra Libal, who now coordinates the department’s mental health training, would not comment on why they were transferred; Looney and Stiles could not be reached for comment.

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