In December 2009, Linda Hicks, a mentally
ill, elderly African-American woman, was shot and killed by
Toledo police in her bed. Hicks was not a violent felon. She
was suffering a psychotic break and her experience was not
momentarily grounded in reality. So, when the police
officers arrived at her adult group home after being called
by her caretaker, they found her in her upstairs room,
holding sewing scissors under a pillow.
Perhaps the responding officers were
aggressive in their command-and-control crisis intervention
techniques. Maybe Hicks was confused, fearful of police and
possibly paranoid. Or, conceivably, in confronting her, the
officers did not allow Ms. Hicks to maintain her own safe
space and so she felt terrified and threatened.
Sequentially, the encounter led not to
de-escalation and the older woman’s calming down but to an
escalation of the situation resulting in the officers’ use
of deadly force. Hicks died after receiving two shots to the
Distressingly, this was the fifth
officer-involved killing of 2009, an abnormally high number
Police officers must make split-second
decisions in high-pressure situations. Yet, they, like
nearly all of us, bring implicit and explicit biases to
their jobs – including stigmatizing beliefs about the
mentally ill as dangerous persons. Blacks bring a fear of
police (mis)conduct, to encounters with law enforcement,
anticipating negative pressure tactics such as excess
physical force, arrest,and apprehension.
At the time of the Hicks incident, it was
evident that the Toledo Police Department was not adequately
prepared to deal with encounters involving persons with
mental distress. I met with then-Toledo Police Chief Mike
Navarre and Lucas County Commissioners Pete Gerken, Tina
Skeldon-Wozniak, and Carol Contrada. The result of our
discussions led, rather rapidly, to the implementation of
Crisis Intervention Training (CIT).
Last week, I wrote about
Lucas County’s re-design of its crisis care system for
people experiencing a mental health or substance abuse
The CIT is a parallel
program to that effort led by mental health clinicians,
consumer and family advocates, and police officers.
Over a decade after my conversation with the Lucas County
Commissioners, our local Mental Health & Recovery Services
Board still trains local law enforcement on how to interact
with people they encounter with mental health or substance
abuse issues or issues related to a developmental
The CIT training has three
Improve officer and individual safety
Increase law enforcement’s knowledge of community resources
Redirect individuals with a mental illness, and/or an
addiction, and/or developmental disorders who are in crisis
into the appropriate health care system
This last issue is crucial
to our community. Studies show that African-Americans are
almost half as likely to seek treatment for mental health
issues than other groups. Training officers to re-direct
individuals to appropriate care goes well beyond safely
managing an individual interaction—it creates the chance for
I spoke with police
officers who completed the training. They remarked that they
were grateful to understand the recovery process better.
Studies also show that after participation in CIT, officers
tend to transport more individuals to mental health services
than officers who have not received training.
To date, the program has
trained 1,244 members of local law enforcement. That
includes local police departments, correctional officers,
hospital security, park rangers, court officials, fire/EMS
responders, and University police. National studies have
also shown that CIT programs reduce workers’ compensation
claims and absenteeism among law enforcement officers.
The training is a
significant undertaking, spanning five days and 40 hours.
Importantly, training is taught by 27 instructors with
specific subject matter expertise, including from the Mental
Health system, the University of Toledo, Developmental
Disabilities, and psychiatrists.
Many of the trainees have
said that the training’s turning point is the site visits
made to the State Psychiatric Hospital, Wernert Center, Lott
Industries and Rescue Mental Crisis.
During these site visits,
the officers have the opportunity to interact directly with
individuals with lived experience. The understanding gained
in these interactions is critical to reducing stigma and
increasing knowledge of (and compassion for) what a person
in a crisis might be experiencing.
In the words of one
officer who completed CIT training, “Many people do not
understand the patience and restraint needed to help/handle
a person in crisis successfully.”
As a result, CIT-trained
officers have reported acquiring improved knowledge,
perceptions, and attitudes of de-escalation strategies.
According to research, these officers are also likely to use
less force in their encounters with people with mental
illness, compared to others without crisis training.
In the final part of the
CIT training, clinical professionals from the mental health,
substance abuse, and developmental disability fields attend
and participate in role-playing exercises with training
Lucas County was the
second county in Ohio to begin offering this training. Our
local CIT is now in its 10th year. We are often
attracted to “the flavor of the month,” but the CIT training
is an example of the long-term, sustained effort needed to
Today, the CIT program is
integrated with local law enforcement and with the Criminal
Justice Coordinating Council.
There is always much to
think about during Black History Month. We cannot forget
those who are struggling with Mental Health, substance
abuse, and developmental disabilities.
Neither should we allow
our advocacy to slacken. The demand for improvement in law
enforcement encounters with those who suffer from mental
illness must go on. Let us continue to reduce the impact of
negative bias toward mental illness within the criminal
Contact Rev. Donald Perryman, D.Min, at