A Message from the President - Michael S. Woody
Last month I was invited by The Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) to attend a meeting titled: Re-Engineering Police Use of Force being held in Washington, D.C. There were close to 300 police executives in attendance, which I was told was the largest turnout ever for these events. I most likely was added as a suggestion of Laura Usher from NAMI National as she was asked to attend in order to answer questions about CIT.
This 1-day event had Inspectors, Chiefs, FBI personnel, Professors, Researchers, Directors, Program Managers, Attorney General's staff, Attorneys, Dept. of Justice staff, Commissioners, NCIS, Scientists, DEA, Secret Service, Consultants, various law enforcement agencies from the U.S. and Canada, Scotland, and England.
The day started off with a Welcome from Chuck Wexler, Executive Director of PERF and several others. Then the agenda began with "State of the Field: Review of Recent Events and PERF Survey Findings on Use of Force Training." I found it interesting but not surprising that surveys showed that most Use of Force Training in academies and In-Service Trainings are conducted by SWAT Team members. There was a lengthy discussion on police officers and agencies branding themselves as warriors, instead of guardians. A recruitment video that was appeared to be quite disturbing to everyone glamorized the military-like attitude of the department, SWAT Team, automatic weapons, military equipment and the action one was likely to see if they joined up was shown!
Watching that video I could not help but wonder if they had advertised in such dramatic fashion their CIT Program, School Resource Officer Program, Community Outreach Program, Shop With a Cop Program and other community outreach initiatives. Would the recruitment pool have looked different than the tactical one used above? You better believe it!
Next on the Agenda was - "Challenging Conventional Thinking: Officer Safety/Tactics, De-escalation, Edged Weapons, Foot Pursuit, Mental Health Crisis and Warrior vs. Guardian." This section is where NAMI's Laura Usher and I became the go-to people for the moderator (Check Wexler). One law enforcement agency proudly touted their CIT initiative as a train-all-officers approach. Obviously, Mr. Wexler had read up on the Core Elements of a CIT Program, and asked me to comment. I tried to be as tactful as possible when I explained CIT as more than just training! CIT as a Program! Special officers for special people! The lasting partnership that is needed and desired between law enforcement, mental health providers and advocates/consumers to make it last through the test of time.
Amazingly, for the most part, those in attendance understood that, and seemed to agree.
With recent law enforcement events/actions around our country, CIT has become quite a much-discussed subject. The rush to give all officers the 40-hour course by legislators, mayors and chief's/sheriff's and... even fund it, is quite amazing. But, I do not see them educating themselves on what a CIT Program is! They want all officers to go through the course - and they want it to happen quickly. I know that in my county we offer the course twice per year. We have 8 M.D.s and 4 Ph.D.s that volunteer their time as well as consumers, advocates, and a host of others. All are there on a volunteer basis. No one gets paid and the officers in the class know this. It makes a huge difference to the officers, as they know the community must really care about this. Now, do you think these volunteer, free instructors are going to want to train all the officers in a community even if the officer does not want the training? That twice per year course is going to have to be conducted much more often. Is it right for law enforcement to ask for this? And, what happens when the community can no longer offer their services this often? Does the law enforcement agency have a couple of CIT officers teach the whole 40-hours? (I have heard of this happening). What does that do for the quality of the program?
The moderator (Wexler) went into a discussion on officers being quick to shoot persons with edged weapons they encounter nowadays. The 21' rule was discussed, and the officers from Scotland and England talked about why they do not carry guns and yet run into a lot of people with edged weapons. They handle the situation through de-escalating the person in crisis. Not a single officer has been killed in a number of years by someone with an edged weapon nor have they had to kill the person with the edged weapon. Of course, no one in Europe has a gun for the most part and if the person will not drop the knife there is a group of back-up officers carrying shields that march toward him/her and safely take them into custody.
Mr. Wexler asked me if I knew how often mentally ill persons had a weapon when the CIT officer is called to the scene. I told the audience it was not often. He asked me if CIT officers saw edged weapons more than they saw guns. I told him it was much more likely to see an edged weapon on a mental illness crisis call.
On the break a few of the attendees approached me asking about CIT and our Core Elements document. I answered all their questions and invited them to learn more by going to our website or the Memphis website. I also took the opportunity to invite them to our 2016 Spring CIT International Conference in Chicago.
Lt. Michael Woody (ret)
President - CIT International Inc.