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Specialized Training Helps Police Respond To Mentally Ill

Police cars sit in front of the Marion County Jail in Indianapolis.

State lawmakers are exploring ways to help create more mental health crisis intervention teams across the state. The programs train law enforcement to better deal with and help the mentally ill.

Crisis Intervention Teams already exist in several cities, including Fort Wayne and Indianapolis. CIT officers are trained to identify the mentally ill and help determine the best way to deal with them – which often includes transporting them to a hospital, instead of jail. 

Fort Wayne police officer Tony Maze is the head of the traffic division and a CIT member. He says Fort Wayne CIT officers are specifically trained not to arrest people for minor crimes if the officers believe the offender has a mental illness.

“You don’t have that stigma of being arrested because you’re ill,” says Maze. “It builds a trust mechanism with us and the community that when we say, ‘No, I’m not taking you to jail; I am taking you for help,’ they learn to trust law enforcement as a whole.”

Marianne Hilbert is with the Indiana chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. She says the legislature can create a statewide CIT coordinator that can help develop CIT programs in law enforcement agencies across Indiana. Still, she says each CIT unit must have a local focus.

“Because it’s not going to look the same in Fort Wayne or Indianapolis as it’s going to look in a smaller or different community,” says Hilbert. “You want the officers to meet the people who actually work at the community mental health center or the crisis unit where they’re going to take the individual.”

Hilbert says a grant program through the state would help provide CIT training to officers in many small law enforcement departments.

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