Debates over use of force often arise when law enforcement (LE) interacts with someone experiencing a mental health (MH) crisis (Deane, et al., 1998; Novake & Engel, 2005). LE are often first responders to MH crises but often lack the necessary training to properly respond. The Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) is a MH response model aimed at increasing LE use of de-escalation strategies, knowledge of mental illness and MH resources. CIT is intended to improve LE’s response to people experiencing MH crises and reduce the lethality of force used; however, a gap in CIT research exists in regards to use of force. This paper investigates level of force used between CIT-trained and non-CIT-trained officers responding to calls involving MH crises.
This mixed-methods (qual to quant), posttest-only control group study compares use of force on LE call reports (CR) from one Midwestern County that trained 25% of their force. The study compares CRs that had a CIT (n=191) trained LE officer to those that did not (n=192). Narrative in CRs were qualitatively coded using the NIJ’s (2009) guidelines on level of force: presence (lowest level of force), verbalization, empty hand, less lethal, and lethal. In addition, the citizen’s substance use and suicidality were also coded. Descriptive and bivariate analyses examined the differences in the LE’s use of force. Logistic regression was used to predict the factors that contributed to utilization of the lowest level of force.
Results indicate CIT trained officers were more likely to use presence as their first level of force as they arrived on the scene of the call (M=.12, SD=.422; non-CIT: M=.06, SD=.234; t(190)=2.19, p<0.05), and to use presence for the entirety of the call as the highest level of force (M=1.84, SD=1.35, non-CIT: M=.72, SD=.45l; t(190)=18.84, p<.001). Conversely, more non-CIT trained officers utilized empty hand control as their highest level of force (M=.147, SD=.523; CIT: M=.026, SD=.190; t(190)=3.88, p<.001). The regression model (χ2(2, 383)=14.42, p<.001), which included LE officer CIT training status and citizen substance use, found CIT trained officers had 2.3 times greater odds of using the lowest level of force throughout the duration of the call (AOR=2.313, p<.05; CI:1.025-5.222), compared to non-CIT trained officers. Citizen substance use was not a significant predictor of use of force.
Conclusion and Implications
Results show that the CIT model impacts use of force by LE on MH crisis calls in this county, filling a much needed gap in the research literature. Importantly, the CIT model requires that officers self-select into the 40-hour training and that it not mandated. Thus, this study could not control for this self-selection criteria and continues to suggest the self-selection criteria. Future research should focus on spill-over effects that occur between trained and non-trained officers on MH crisis call outcomes between agencies that implement training and those that do not.