MISSOULA — More often than not, law enforcement is the first to arrive for a mental health crisis.
Now there's new hope these experiences will become less dangerous for those involved through a "Crisis Intervention Team" (CIT) -- a program that guides interactions between law enforcement and those living with mental illness.
To accomplish fewer trips to the hospital and eliminate "jail" as the automatic next step, CIT trains law enforcement on where to send people; for example, maybe connecting them to mental health professionals.
The program is found all over Montana – in Missoula, Ravalli, Flathead, Yellowstone and other counties, but as common as this is, up until now, there was no real way of knowing its effectiveness. However, that’s all about to change.
“One of the things that we found is law enforcement is the Swiss Army knife, the utility tool to be able to match all situations, especially at all hours of the night,” said CIT Lead Law Enforcement Officer Sgt. Ben Slater with the Missoula Police Department.
Calls of every kind make their way to the Missoula Police Department and the officers responding are tasked with handling each crisis, no matter how unique; that’s where the Crisis Intervention Team comes into play.
“What the Crisis Intervention Team is intended to address is identifying who the other resources are in the community to help those first line responders identify the best ‘next step’ for an individual in a mental health crisis,” Sgt. Slater explained.
CIT is a little acronym with a lot of moving parts.
“The mobile support team and our behavior health partners, law enforcement, firefighters, EMTs, they’re all underneath that CIT umbrella if that makes sense,” CIT Program Manager Theresa Williams told MTN News.
Determining how well all of these entities are working together is hard to quantify --- but that won’t be the case for much longer. Thanks to an $80,000 grant, CIT will soon hire a data analyst who will be in charge of finding the numbers and the effectiveness of the Crisis Intervention Team.
That person will be answering questions like how many behavioral health calls are coming in, which mental health program is being utilized the most?
“I have the anecdotal data and I'm hearing about it every single day, but we don't have any way to convey that and the wonderful stories that are happening. We also need to be highlighting the gaps and where we need to put some more resources as well. I think it's just so important that the public knows what is being done every single day to support people, and people in mental health crises are not asking to go through this dysfunctional system, they need a system that reduces trauma and also helps increase their long-term outcomes.” - CIT Program Manager Theresa Williams
CIT is actively recruiting for their new data analyst. Funding for the position expires July 30, 2022 and leaders say they have a lot to learn -- and a lot to prove -- in a short amount of time.