Individuals with serious mental illnesses are very likely to interact with police officers. The crisis intervention team (CIT) model is being widely implemented by police departments across the United States to improve officers’ responses. However, little research exists on officer-level outcomes. The authors compared officers with or without CIT training on six key constructs related to the CIT model: knowledge about mental illnesses, attitudes about serious mental illnesses and treatments, self-efficacy for deescalating crisis situations and making referrals to mental health services, stigmatizing attitudes, deescalation skills, and referral decisions.
The sample included 586 officers, 251 of whom had received the 40-hour CIT training (median of 22 months before the study), from six police departments in Georgia. In-depth, in-person assessments of officers’ knowledge, attitudes, and skills were administered. Many measures were linked to two vignettes, in written and video formats, depicting typical police encounters with individuals with psychosis or with suicidality.
CIT-trained officers had consistently better scores on knowledge, diverse attitudes about mental illnesses and their treatments, self-efficacy for interacting with someone with psychosis or suicidality, social distance stigma, deescalation skills, and referral decisions. Effect sizes for some measures, including deescalation skills and referral decisions pertaining to psychosis, were substantial (d=.71 and .57, respectively, p<.001).
CIT training of police officers resulted in sizable and persisting improvements in diverse aspects of knowledge, attitudes, and skills. Research should now address potential outcomes at the system level and for individuals with whom officers interact.