Every day we read headlines telling us that yet another police officer is being charged with wrongdoing, police brutality, or even worse. The news is rife with headlines about “confidential settlements” that confirm that someone who was wronged by the police has been given money (hush money?) to compensate them for the wrongs committed by people who are supposed to be guardians of our safety. What can we do about this?
My concern stems from the fact that I am not only an attorney and mediator, but also the sister of someone who suffers with a mental illness. I am her guardian and protector. I was privileged to have participated in CIT training through my local NAMI affiliate. I learned so much, and I would like to share my knowledge with you.
CIT training is a form of conflict resolution that teaches police officers, hospital screeners, and NAMI advocates how to respond to members of the public who are in crisis. We were given countless examples where “resistance” or “outright disobedience” by someone who was ultimately arrested stemmed from the fact that he or she refused to follow an officer’s instructions because the person was deaf, autistic or suffering from a mental illness. Chaos ensues with tensions escalating, often with terrible consequences. The result is that not only is the person subjected to arrest, beatings or worse, but that officer, his commanding officer, partner and captain may all lose their jobs because of missed cues. The public picks up the tab for multi-million dollar settlements. This does not have to be.
CIT training should be required education for all police officers, both municipal and state. The training teaches them how to pick up cues about the person’s response or lack thereof, respond in difficult situations, how to recognize someone who is hearing impaired (otherwise perceived as being intransigent), someone who suffers with autism or is suffering with a mental illness. Not only would CIT training save a lot of money by avoiding million dollar settlements, but it would also provide conflict resolution training for officers about how to deal with the public in general. It would restore police to the role of “guardian” of a vulnerable population rather than that of offender.