A woman is shown making a phone call, facing away from the camera.
Specialized Crisis Intervention Team trained officers are responding to significantly more crisis calls than they were four years ago. Credit: Jeff Haynes / Signal Cleveland

Officers who have gone through specialized Crisis Intervention Team training are responding to significantly more crisis calls than they were four years ago. 

In 2023 so far, specialized crisis intervention officers were on scene at almost 37% of all crisis calls, said Lt. John Mullin, Crisis Intervention Coordinator.   

Mullin, a member of the Mental Health Response Advisory Committee, provided Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training updates for the committee during its Friday meeting.  

Mullin said between October and December of 2020, when the specialized CIT program started, the Cleveland Division of Police had specialized CIT officers at 9.43% of crisis calls. That percentage increased to 17.04% in 2021 and to 31.75% in 2022. 

How many officers have completed specialized training?

Specialized crisis training is a 40-hour program that officers can choose to take. Once they go through the training, most of the officers become designated SCIT officers. That means they can be called on to respond to a crisis call when available.

Field training officers – those who train new officers – are required to take the specialized CIT classes, but they can to opt-out of being designated SCIT officers.

The Cleveland Division of Police has 499 patrol officers immediately responding to 911 calls. When available, one of the 90 specialized CIT officers can also respond if it’s a mental health crisis call. 

The division has 113 officers who have gone through the training. Of those, 23 have chosen not to be designated, Mullin said. 

Another 18 officers are signed up for specialized crisis training in October. Seven have signed up for the December session. Division leaders will work to increase the December class to between 18 and 20, which is the ideal size for a training class, Mullin told the committee. 

The city took over operating the committee this year, after the Cuyahoga County Alcohol, Drug Addiction, and Mental Health Services Board (ADAMHS) stepped away from the agreement at the end of last year. 

Director of Public Health Dr. David Margolius said he plans to have the crisis intervention team give the committee updates on CIT data every time they meet, which is every two months. 

How are calls designated a mental health crisis?

Josiah Quarles, a committee member from REACH Behavioral Health, an advocacy organization that provides mental health services, asked how emergency calls are determined to be crisis calls.  

Mullin said sometimes the person who calls 911 or 988 identifies the problem as a mental health crisis. Other times, officers who arrive on scene identify it as a crisis situation. The officers can then call either a designated CIT officer or a co-response team if available. 

Elaine Schleiffer, also with REACH, asked what officers on scene look for to determine if a situation is a mental health crisis eligible for them to call a specialized CIT officer. 

Mullin said there is no exact criteria. It’s left to the officer’s observations, training and experience, he said. Some calls are more obvious, like when a person says they’re in crisis or is showing signs of schizophrenia, Mullin added. 

How do people in crisis get connected to resources?

Dr. Randolph Dupont, a member of the Cleveland Police Monitoring Team – the body that oversees Cleveland’s progress in implementing the federal consent decree – said his concern after reviewing bodycam footage is that officers without crisis intervention training don’t have the resources to make referrals once they have identified a situation as a mental health crisis. 

The consent decree is an agreement between the U.S. Department of Justice and the Cleveland Division of Police that the police department will implement a series of reforms to improve its relationship with community members and eliminate excessive force.  

Mullin said officers who are working shifts where a specialized CIT officer or co-response team isn’t available still fill out a form identifying the call they responded to as a mental health call. The co-response team goes over those forms the next day and follows up on those calls during their shift. 

The consent decree requires that the committee analyze CIT data once a year. Margolius said that’s the baseline, but he wants to learn about and discuss CIT data more often starting this year. 

Criminal Justice Reporter (she/her)
Stephanie, who covered criminal justice and breaking news at the Chicago Tribune, is a bilingual journalist with a passion for storytelling that is inclusive and reflects the diversity of the communities she covers. She has been a reporter and copy editor for local newspapers in South Dakota, Kansas and Arizona. Stephanie is also a Maynard 200 alumni, a Maynard Institute for Journalism Education training program for journalists of color that focuses on making newsrooms more equitable, diverse and anti-racist.