CHICAGO - Following another police shooting, Mayor Rahm Emanuel called for an immediate review of how the Chicago Police Department trains officers to respond to calls involving people in crisis or with mental health problems.
But advocates for what's known as crisis intervention team training say Chicago's program has been "starved" of resources, with only about 15 percent of officers completing the 40-hour course. Advocates say they tried to get meetings with Emanuel early in his first term to stress the importance of the training and ask the city to invest more in it, but were ignored. Illinois' budget crisis also created a lapse, not just in Chicago but elsewhere.
The issue resurfaced last weekend, after officers responding to a domestic disturbance shot and killed a 19-year-old man and a 55-year-old woman. The deaths of Bettie Jones - who police say was accidentally hit by gunfire - and Quintonio LeGrier occurred just weeks after the Department of Justice opened a civil-rights investigation into Chicago police practices.
In CIT training, officers learn to identify a person who is in crisis and to de-escalate situations in which someone is agitated or exhibiting other signs of mental trouble.
That may mean taking more time for the person to calm down, talking with the person about what's happening, or finding other resources such as a case manager or mental health clinic rather than making an arrest.
There are more than 2,700 CIT programs across the United States.
Amy Watson, an associate professor of social work at the University of Illinois at Chicago, has been involved with the Chicago Police Department's program since it was formed in 2005 and has conducted two studies on its effectiveness. Her research and other studies have found that officers trained in CIT methods use less force, are better equipped to defuse crises, and reduce the risk of injury.
Alexa James, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Chicago, called the program "fabulous."
Any deficiencies, Watson and James agree, are in how it's been implemented in the Chicago Police Department. About 1,860 officers, or about 15 percent of the police force, have received the training, Chicago police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said Monday.
Watson and James say the percentage should be closer to 25 or 35 percent - enough so that there's a CIT-trained officer on every shift in every police district who can respond to calls as needed. Right now, that kind of coverage is "spotty," Watson said. It's particularly difficult to find a trained officer on the overnight shift.
"Every officer is trained in how to use a firearm, but not every officer will use their weapon," James said. She said the likelihood of an officer encountering a person in crisis is far greater.
Training also has been inconsistent at the city's 911 center, where dispatchers should ask questions to determine if a situation involves someone with a mental health issue, then dispatch a CIT-trained officer if one is needed. That training hasn't been happening often enough, they said.