Letter: Crisis intervention training should be mandatory for Berkshire police

Crisis training should be mandatory for police

To the editor:

I was pleased to learn that law enforcement officers throughout Berkshire County are receiving crisis intervention training from the National Alliance on Mental Illness organization.

As a social work graduate student, I have had the opportunity and pleasure of working with individuals experiencing mental illness. Not only am I passionate about helping individuals who are suffering from mental illness, I am also unwaveringly determined to ensure that all individuals obtain effective treatment from the criminal justice system.

While some Berkshire police departments have recognized the importance of implementing this voluntary intervention, some is simply not enough. As we begin to raise awareness regarding the importance of having Crisis Intervention Teams, intervention training should be made mandatory throughout the police departments of Berkshire County.

In 1988, the first Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) originated in Memphis, Tennessee, after an individual with mental illness was fatally shot by a Memphis police officer. From this, mental health professionals, advocates, and law enforcement collaborated to form the Memphis CIT. The goals of the team were to identify a mental health crisis, effectively de-escalate the situation, and help the individual receive effective treatment rather than incarceration.

CIT quickly spread due to the vast majority of officers who encountered mental health crises and did not know how to effectively respond. There are over 1,000 CIT programs worldwide. I highly recommend Berkshire County police departments to implement CIT for its success in decreasing arrest rates while increasing safety measures and leading individuals to mental health treatment in lieu of prison or jail.

CIT has also increased awareness and attitudes of mental illness, improved police officers' confidence in adequately assisting the mentally ill, and has enhanced the overall cooperation and communication amongst the mental health services and criminal justice services. Also, diverting an individual to treatment rather than incarceration has been proven to be less expensive.

Berkshire County can make a difference by contacting our local legislators and emphasizing the importance of CIT. You can become an advocate for individuals experiencing mental illness and help spread the word on the benefits of mandatory Crisis Intervention Teams into all the Berkshire police departments. Berkshire County can make a difference. You can make a difference.

Taylor DeSanty, North Adams


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