U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

NCJRS Virtual Library

The Virtual Library houses over 235,000 criminal justice resources, including all known OJP works.
Click here to search the NCJRS Virtual Library

Talking to "Invisible" People

NCJ Number
Law Enforcement Technology Volume: 32 Issue: 9 Dated: September 2005 Pages: 116,118-120,122-124,126
Jeannine Heinecke
Date Published
September 2005
8 pages
This article discusses the purpose and training content for police crisis intervention teams (CITs), which are responsible for managing mentally ill persons, many of whom are homeless, when their behavior raises public safety issues.
Due to the structure and policies of community-based mental health care in the United States, the police are the default professionals who are called upon to be the "protectors" and temporary case managers of mentally ill persons who engage in dangerous and disorderly behavior in the community. Many police departments have specially trained CITs to perform this work. Training for CIT officers involves instruction in the nature of mental illness and how to engage in constructive interaction with them in times of crisis so as to achieve the desired outcome in the crisis. When responding to a call that involves behavior which warrants police intervention, CIT officers must first determine whether a person has a mental illness. This is done by engaging him/her in conversation. Irrationality in conversation will suggest the presence of a mental illness. Thus, CIT officers must be trained in communicating with mentally ill people when they are in crisis. This article offers suggestions for verbal and nonverbal officer actions most likely to prevent escalation into violent encounters. Recommendations are also offered for functioning as a team in interacting with a mentally ill person. Unless a crime has been committed, the CIT has no authority to take a mentally ill person into custody. CIT officers must be trained in the actions that can be taken for the benefit of a mentally ill person without violating legal parameters for police actions.