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Jim Ritz: Berwyn police and mental health

Published: Thursday, April 4, 2013 10:34 a.m. CDT • Updated: Thursday, April 4, 2013 10:44 a.m. CDT

In the law enforcement profession, we enter the lives of those we serve who experience traumatic and critical life-stressors on a daily basis.  The role police officers play on the scene of these types of incidents is dangerous, extremely challenging and unpredictable.  These types of calls have become a mounting and volatile problem for first responders.  

To better understand and respond to the inherent risks in dealing with people with mental health issues who are imminently dangerous, suicidal and experiencing some type of emotional distress, our department established a Crisis Intervention Team (CIT). Safety of our first responders is paramount. Police officers are more likely to be killed or injured by someone with a mental illness than by someone without.   

The CIT model was created in Memphis in 1998. This approach provided a framework for specially trained police officers to respond to calls of people with mental health disorders. The CIT model incorporates two main components: a collaborative framework among community mental health resources, recipients of those services and local law enforcement agencies, and a specialized training for CIT officers in mental health issues, crisis intervention and de-escalation techniques.  

Understanding mental health is a major component of our officer safety-training programs and is an important element of our CIT initiatives to promote and enhance our working relationships and communication with local community health providers and partners. Our community partners involved with our CIT team include the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), MacNeal Hospital Psychiatry and Behavioral Health Services, the Berwyn Township Health Department and Solutions for Care. We are also privileged to have two highly skilled members of the Berwyn Police Department who are also part of our CIT team that are clinical mental health specialists who teach in statewide CIT-certified curriculums and at the Chicago Police Training Academy.  

How we communicate with those in crisis is a crucial factor for police officer and community safety. Statistics show that almost 50 percent of our population lives with some form of mental illness, which can involve depression, anxiety, and alcohol and substance abuse. As first responders, we need to work with the public health community toward solutions on how to respond effectively. By enhancing our awareness, and by putting a primary focus on training, we can offer alternatives to better assist individuals with mental health and substance-abuse disorders.  

Jim Ritz is chief of police for the Berwyn Police Department

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