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Peanut Butter and Jelly

Pairing CIT and Co-responder Programs for a Delicious Police-Mental Health Collaboration

Kimberly Hendrickson Project Manager, Behavioral Health Outreach Program, City of Poulsbo


Charlie Davis, M.A.

We’ve seen some recent debate on the merits of CIT versus co-responder models. If we had to choose between one or the other, such a debate might make sense, but here we argue that the two complement each other effectively, and in fact are most powerful when implemented together.

First, co-response helps officers divert more effectively. CIT acknowledges the value of criminal justice diversion, and that’s critical. And: without follow up after the crisis, we are simply addressing the crisis, but not the longer-term issue.

This is like taking aspirin (very expensive aspirin) for a headache day-in and day-out without ever diagnosing and treating the cause of the headache. Effectively implemented co-responder programs assist on-scene, but they also follow up post-crisis to navigate the complex legal and mental health systems, maximizing the value of that initial contact. These programs give prosecutors the info and assurances they need to agree to diversion once a crime has been committed. Most importantly, they navigate a fragmented system, and find opportunities for treatment that officers don’t have the time or ability to find on their own.

One of the many benefits of this that is not always obvious is an eventual reduction in calls for emergency services from high-utilizing community members. The cost savings when this happens are impressive. And perhaps more importantly, frustration for emergency responders is greatly reduced; they live with these revolving, seemingly-hopeless cases on a daily basis. Just the idea that it might be possible that something could change is a ray of light for them. Their job satisfaction and attitude toward mental health issues as a part of their job slowly begin to evolve and heal.

Furthermore, officers don’t always communicate effectively with hospitals-behavioral health agencies, and vice-versa. This is completely predictable.

CIT absolutely acknowledges the importance of police/healthcare partnerships, but these cultures are operating in alternate universes. Mental health co-responder staff have the time and connections to make meaningful partnerships happen. They bridge these worlds, for results that keep developing in their absence.

Finally, it’s just not right that law enforcement is left alone with a constant flood of mental health challenges. If that were a given, the least we can do is provide them with CIT. But isn’t it better to provide them with a SME (Subject Matter Expert) who’s entire focus is to help them deal with these problems--that in a fair and well-designed society would not be their responsibility?

We therefore submit that co-responder programs with an emphasis on follow up and navigation are a logical and necessary complement to CIT.

Of course, even co-responder programs don’t solve every problem. Some respondents don’t meet emergency criteria, but are in obvious need of care. If they refuse, what then? Sometimes the service they need does not exist, is not realistically available, or the wait time is extensive and the need is immediate. There are not always satisfactory options, and this is a frustrating part of real life. Improvement in these areas will be key in determining the future: divert to what?

But for the time being: co-responder programs, in collaboration with CIT programs, maximize positive outcomes. They save precious community dollars. They reduce responder frustration. They improve cross-cultural communication. And in this way, they improve quality of life in our communities.

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