A Message from Percy Howard, LCSW CIBHS President and CEO
Re-examining Crisis Intervention Efforts in California


The Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) Model was created in 1987 by the Memphis Police Department in the aftermath of the shooting, and subsequent death, of Joseph DeWayne Robinson by Memphis Police officers at the LeMoyne Gardens public housing project on September 24th of that year. Mr. Robinson was cutting and stabbing himself when police arrived at the scene, indicating that he was exhibiting at minimum, signs of psycho-emotional distress and potentially mental illness. The details of what happened after police arrived are unclear to this day, but what is clear, is that Mr. Robinson was killed, and a major factor in his death was a lack of preparedness to address his needs by the officers who arrived on the scene.

The mission of the CIT model is to equip first responders (with a primary focus on police) with the skills needed to effectively intervene in crisis situations by providing care and support to those experiencing crisis, while ensuring the safety of those affected, the intervening professionals, and the community.  CIT is often implemented in collaboration with behavioral health and law enforcement entities, with a goal to increase the crisis management capabilities of staff from both fields.

Some critical questions regarding the evolution and ongoing implementation of the CIT model include: What are the current outcomes of CIT? What are the community-defined and recognized areas of challenge and success concerning the model? And finally, what are the cutting-edge innovations, strategies, and changes occurring locally, statewide, and nationally that are subject to broader dissemination and spread in California? In struggling with these questions, I have come to the realization that they are not meant to be addressed in an essay but should catalyze discussion. To facilitate this dialogue, the California Institute for Behavioral Health Solutions (CIBHS) would like to host moderated webinar conversations in October and November of 2020. The focus of the conversations will be on the current and future state of CIT implementation, and will include law enforcement, behavioral health leaders, advocates from communities of color, and hopefully, local elected officials. This is meant to be frank discussion focused on how CIT might evolve to facilitate better health equity, community safety, and disparity outcomes, while concurrently increasing community involvement, leadership, and ownership of local implementation efforts.

This process is meant to be one of supportive inquiry towards positive change and is offered in the spirit of helping take CIT and other crisis management and intervention models from “good to great”. We do believe it is relevant to subject analysis of CIT effectiveness to new, dynamic thinking that has emerged from communities in the wake of numerous incidents of police violence towards Black and Brown people in the past several decades. These include the community-driven “defund the police” construct, though the name “defund the police” unnecessarily agitates and insufficiently describes the approach. The approach carefully examines systemic, structural, political, and economic drivers of policing in the context of mitigation of health disparities, the impact of violence, and other wellness outcomes in a given community, and subsequently, reconsiders reallocation of resources to improve said outcomes. This does not guarantee or demand defunding all police entities, but it does require a very careful look at the allocation of resources in underserved and at-risk communities, and demand commitment to undo the effects of systemic and structural racism which support poor community outcomes.

CIBHS is hoping that the moderated webinars will serve as one of many possible catalysts for further innovation, thought leadership, and collaboration with communities of color, law enforcement, and behavioral health organizations regarding Crisis Intervention efforts in California. Stay tuned to this space for more information regarding the dates and logistics of the webinars. Thank you all for your continued efforts and partnership to improve health and behavioral health outcomes for all Californians.

Percy Howard, LCSW
CIBHS President and CEO