An illustration in oranges and dark gray-blues shows a young girl on the right side looking fearful as the shadow of a police officer approaches her with handcuffs in his hand.
Credit: Tara Anand for The Marshall Project

Cid Standifer, The Marshall Project

In the videos where young children in crisis were handcuffed, while they had likely been through the basic 8-hour crisis response training, none of the officers who were first on the scene had been through the 40 hours of training required to become crisis intervention team specialists.

The Marshall Project and Eye on Ohio requested one video where the child hadn’t been handcuffed, and both the supervisor and one of the first responding officers on scene was a crisis intervention specialist. In that instance, officers didn’t handcuff the child.

This story is a joint project of the nonprofit The Marshall Project – Cleveland and Eye on Ohio, the nonprofit, nonpartisan Ohio Center for Journalism.

After a 10-year-old girl who’d been trying to harm herself storms out of her foster mother’s house, screaming and overturning objects on the lawn, several officers follow her down the street at a distance for almost four minutes.

“This is ridiculous,” grumbles Chris Eaton, the officer whose body camera footage was provided, out of ear-shot of the girl. “She should be grabbed, put in the back of the car and that should be that. Take her to the freakin’ hospital.”

It’s not clear why from the video, but the girl is on the ground when Eaton reaches her. Officers are standing around her at arm’s length.

“Young lady, my name is Chris Eaton,” he says. “I’m a sergeant with the Cleveland Police Department. What’s going on today?”

The 2017 Crisis Intervention Team policy suggests officers “Introduce yourself and seek to establish a rapport” as one de-escalation tactic.

After a brief exchange with Eaton, another officer offers to take the girl to the hospital.

The girl tells officers not to touch her, and says she’ll get up by herself. The officer agrees.

“Have a seat in the car and we’ll take you somewhere else,” he adds. “Thank you.”

She then gets in the car without the officers using handcuffs or physical force.

The slides for the Crisis Intervention Team officer training unit about youth with mental health problems advises, “Try to avoid touching an angry and potentially violent person.” The training says that touching someone angry may trigger them to violence, while giving them space can let them cool down.

The week-long training schedule for Crisis Intervention Team specialists includes units on understanding schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and other common mental illnesses; site visits to places like the psychiatric emergency room at St. Vincent’s Hospital and community mental health providers; and one hour dedicated exclusively to youth and young adults’ mental health.

There are currently 92 officers in the department who have completed the full training, and department policy calls for them to be deployed to crisis situations whenever possible. But only 17 % of crisis response incidents between February 2020 and April 2022 said that at least one responding officer or a supervisor was a Crisis Intervention Team specialist.

Of the seven crisis response incidents where footage was provided, specialized Crisis Intervention Team officers were only requested in two, according to officers’ reports.

The consent decree between Cleveland and the Department of Justice says that it should be the norm for Crisis Intervention Team specialists to respond to all calls where someone seems to be in crisis.

Cleveland Division of Police “policies and procedures will make clear that specialized Crisis Intervention Team officers, when available, must be dispatched to all calls or incidents that appear to involve an individual in crisis,” the decree reads. “CDP will identify any barriers to ensuring that specialized Crisis Intervention Team officers were dispatched to these calls, and will include steps to overcome these barriers.”

But, under the consent decree, the department is only required to have four training sessions for specialized Crisis Intervention Team officers.

Aaron, who frequently runs training for police officers, said that many are excited about training in understanding mentally ill kids, and are eager for more.
“I’ve trained many hundreds of police officers, and they get into policing I think by and large because they care about people and they want to help people,” Aaron said. “Tools that help them do that should, I would think, be consistent with their personal and professional goals.”

The Marshall Project is a nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization that seeks to create and sustain a sense of national urgency about the U.S. criminal justice system. Through a partnership with Signal Cleveland, The Marshall Project is weaving more resident voices into its reporting and building an understanding about how the justice system works — and doesn’t work — in Cleveland.