Verbum Incarnatum: An Academic Journal of Social Justice


Estimates vary, but a third to one half of individuals shot and killed by police have a mental illness or disability, and many who are taken into custody languish in county jails where no treatment for their illness is available. The Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) model is an increasingly important adjunct to U.S. police training because it de-escalates tense situations, diverts people with mental illness away from jail and into treatment, and can reduce the risk of civilian deaths during a police encounter. As such, it is a strategy for reducing the social injustice of incarceration or deaths of people with mental illness during police encounters. Studies of CIT effectiveness are challenging due to mistrust between law enforcement and the community, policy that limits communication (including a hierarchical structure), and the danger involved in observing police behavior in the field. As a result, studies of CIT effectiveness typically rely on a survey of the CIT officers and do not observe behavior in the field to confirm reported changes. In this small participatory action research (PAR) study, we used a community-based participatory research method featuring “ride-along” observations of CIT-trained officers and untrained officers to examine the various effects of CIT training in one U.S. metropolitan community. We documented some evidence of changes in community relationships, as well as different interviewing styles among police officers following CIT training. CIT training increased the length of interviewing time and resulted in more diversions away from jails.