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October 28, 2022

Why doesn't the Philadelphia police require crisis intervention training?

The city controller recommended universal CIT training in a recent report; it is currently optional for city officers, despite reforms

In this month's audit of the Philadelphia Police Department, the City Controller's Office made numerous recommendations to improve staffing, processes and officer response times. It also made suggestions to improve "community legitimacy," among them "consider mandating CIT training for all officers."

CIT stands for to Crisis Intervention Team, and the training program addresses encounters between police and people with mental illnesses or in active mental distress. The 40-hour training has long been offered to Philadelphia police officers on a strictly voluntary basis. In previous years, the one exception when it became mandatory was for police officers carrying non-lethal stun guns, who were required to receive the CIT training alongside eight hours of stun-gun training.

But as the Philadelphia police roll out a five-year plan to put Tasers, or similar stun guns, in the hands of every officer, that CIT mandate has fallen away.

The crisis intervention tactics of the department's officers came under scrutiny in late 2020 after the killing of Walter Wallace Jr., a 27-year-old bipolar Black man in West Philly. Police had arrived on the scene after a 911 call from Wallace's family, who said he was experiencing a mental crisis. When Wallace refused to drop a knife he was wielding, officers shot him 14 times, sparking days of protests.

In the wake of Wallace's death, the Philadelphia police unveiled a $14 million, five-year reform plan to equip all uniformed officers with Tasers, as well as offer modified CIT training to 911 call takers and dispatchers. The 40-hour CIT training for police officers was quickly decoupled from Taser training, however, to speed up the rollout of the stun guns.

"CIT training is not a requirement to receive Taser training at this time," Officer Miguel Torres, a spokesperson for the Philadelphia Police, confirmed to PhillyVoice. "CIT training is still being given."

Also known as the Memphis model, the Crisis Intervention Team program was developed in 1988 by Sam Cochran, a former major with the Memphis Police Department, and Dr. Randolph Dupont, a clinical psychologist and professor at the University of Tennessee. Per its official website, the program has two basic goals. First, develop the most compassionate and effective crisis response system that is the least intrusive in a person's life, and second, help people in crises because of mental disorders or addictions get access to treatments rather than place them in the criminal justice system due to their behaviors.

Essentially, the aim is to avoid escalations that result in tragedies, like Wallace's death. Though the exact number of people with mental illness killed by the police is unknown, due to gaps in reporting, studies have suggested they are 16 times more likely to be killed when approached by law enforcement.

While research has not conclusively linked CIT to a reduction in injuries or deaths, some studies have shown promising results. A 2018 analysis of existing CIT studies found that the training "likely leads to prebooking diversion from jails to psychiatric facilities" and benefits police officers, too, who reported more satisfaction and that they believed they used of force less often.

Likewise, a 2014 study published in the mental health journal Psychiatric Services found that CIT-trained officers were "significantly more likely to report verbal engagement or negotiation as the highest level of force used," and less likely to arrest mentally ill individuals who they encounter on the jobs.

In 2021, the Philadelphia police reported that 3,555 officer, which is just over 50% of the force, were CIT trained. "The goal is to have all officers receive CIT training," city officials said at the time. Yet given the difficult ongoing Taser reform rollout, it's hard to see where crisis intervention training fits in.