Crucial to CIT's model are family members, the consumers, the mental health community and, finally, law enforcement, all working on the same page. Cochran is a huge advocate of this approach, and says that one of the biggest mistakes communities can make when considering CIT is to look at it as only a training program. CIT has a lot of heart, and that, says Cochran, is one of the reasons it works.
The Memphis police major doesn't simply talk the talk when it comes to the people the program is designed to serve. He also champions them and deplores the stigma that often attaches to a diagnosis of mental illness.
"I believe stigma, as it relates to mental illness issues, permeates our communities and our culture," Cochran says.
The 40-hour CIT course is "the platform that creates a foundation by which a structure is designed to fight 'stigma' and to reflect a model program that is not just a 'training' program," he says.
Cochran says CIT is an opportunity to improve the entire system and, indeed, communities that have signed onto the CIT concept have seen more success working with incidents that, in other circumstances, could have led to heartbreaking results.
CIT succeeds because it respects the dignity of the mentally ill. It works to divert these individuals from the criminal justice system and into more appropriate surroundings, whenever possible. And it takes a reasonable, caring approach. Families know that their loved ones are not being handled as if they were disabled. Instead, their lives, health and well-being have value and that value is consistently recognized by those in the system.
"CIT is about saving lives," Cochran says. "One life — what's that worth? The urgency of this mission demands attention, not delays. Family members, consumers and crisis responders face traumatizing realities daily."
Like diabetes, heart disease or cancer, mental illness is a physical ailment, not something the sufferer brings on him or herself. But unlike those who are burdened with those afflictions, the public's attitude toward the mentally ill is cloaked in ugliness and invective. They are called crazy, loony, out-of-their-minds, nuts and many things worse. And that is the perception Cochran, his officers and other members of the CIT partnership are working to change.
As for the stigma of mental illness, Cochran says he doesn't like it. "I believe that within the context of how this word relates to issues of mental illnesses that the most appropriate word is 'prejudice.' But our culture does not like the use of that word."
Still, he says, like the word or not, "It's all about prejudice."Benefits of CIT
CIT has saved lives. Period. The MPD says the program's benefits have been significant, immediate and verifiable. According to the MPD, CIT has led to:
- Immediate crisis response.
- A decrease in the number of arrests and use of force.
- Identification of consumers who are not being fully served.
- Better training and education in the art of verbal de-escalation techniques.
- Fewer officer injuries in crisis situations.
- Good public relations — the community recognizes the department's willingness to resolve these issues without resorting to violent methodology.
- Fewer arrests in these cases.
- A decrease in jail health care issue liabilities.
- Savings to the taxpayer.
"NAMI (Memphis) credits CIT with saving lives and preventing injuries, both for consumers and officers," Cochran wrote in an opinion piece on the department's Web site. "Officer injury data has decreased by seven-fold since the program's inception. University of Tennessee studies have shown that the CIT program has resulted in a decrease in arrests rates for the mentally ill.
"Most importantly, CIT officers give consumers a sense of dignity. This dignity generates a new respect and outlook on the police and the mental health systems."
The time for change to the nation's attitude toward those afflicted with mental illness has come. All human beings deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. That law enforcement can provide a gateway for change speaks volumes about how this profession has grown and matured over the years.