NYPD Slow To Roll Out Crisis Intervention Training
By Amanda Eisenberg Politico October 19, 2018
Two years after an NYPD officer fatally shot Deborah Danner, a 66-year-old woman with schizophrenia, the New York Police Department has yet to roll out crisis intervention training to tens of thousands of its officers.
Only 9,828 officers went through crisis intervention training between the 2016 and 2018 fiscal years, according to the Mayor's Management Report. About three in five officers assigned to patrol, housing and transit are not yet equipped to de-escalate mental health crises.
"At this time, 43 percent of police officers, detectives, sergeants and lieutenants assigned to patrol, housing and transit have completed the training," said NYPD spokeswoman Sgt. Jessica McRorie. "CIT training is a specialized program that must be thoroughly implemented in order to be successful. Training more than 22,000 patrol, transit and housing officers properly won't happen overnight."
The NYPD told POLITICO that it would enroll all supervisors in crisis intervention training by the fall, but did not respond to multiple requests for the number of supervisors and the percentage of those who have yet to enroll.
Until all officers complete crisis intervention training, which the NYPD said in a DOI report will take at least five more years, dispatchers don't know whether the nearest patrol unit responding to a call has the skill set needed to deescalate a behavioral health-related situation.
People with untreated mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed during a police encounter than other residents, according to a report from the Treatment Advocacy Center. Other reports have found that police brutality damages the mental health of African-Americans. And as communities of color grapple with police violence, advocates say the department needs to accelerate its efforts.
"One thing that feels unclear to me is whether there is a protocol for the NYPD responding to the emotionally disturbed," said Anthonine Pierre, deputy director of the Brooklyn Movement Center. "They've created a situation where we need crisis intervention training by not having real protocols to begin with. That's the legacy of broken windows policing: Shoot, and ask questions later."
In the case of Saheed Vassell, a mentally ill man killed by officers in April, a savvier dispatching system could have informed the responders of the man's known state — local Brooklyn patrol officers had taken Vassell to the hospital a number of times in recent years, The New York Times reported. When plainclothes officers arrived, they said they believed he was armed with a gun and shot and killed the 34-year-old man. Vassell was wielding a silver-colored pipe.
"The dispatch process is really different from agency to agency," said Jillian Peterson, a former New York City special investigator and criminal justice researcher. "I do think the general protocol is someone calls in [and] the closest car goes. They're not thinking about the skill set of that car."
Police departments in smaller cities like St. Paul, Minnesota, have instructed dispatchers to send out officers trained in crisis intervention to specific mental health-related calls or send out a secondary unit to accompany officers without the training, Peterson said.
In a Department of Investigation report from March, the city watchdog agency recommended that the NYPD create a dedicated mental health unit, or at least appoint a police chief to manage the crisis training program.
"NYPD reports it does not intend to create a mental health unit, but it has appointed a Crisis Intervention Training Coordinator at the rank of lieutenant," the report said.
Crisis intervention training still has its obstacles. The program costs about $700 to $800 per officer in Minnesota, said James Densley, an associate professor of criminal justice at Metropolitan State University. The cost is likely to be even more expensive in New York City, he said.
Nationally, it's rare for police departments training their officers in crisis intervention to track use of force and the number of arrests on crisis calls — data that could support whether the return on investment pays off, Peterson said.
Even when officers are trained to de-escalate crises, they're operating in a law enforcement silo — many of the people police officers respond to do not qualify for a hospital stay and are sent back home without proper medical intervention, where another trigger could cause that person to spiral again.
That type of situation often results in repeat 911 calls and the disintegration of trust between communities and the police, Densley said, but he said there's been a push among some departments to take a new approach to confronting potentially violent situations.
"At the moment, because of the scrutiny police are under, particularly because of force nationwide, agencies are scrambling to do something, even if that something doesn't have a huge body of evidence behind it or doesn't necessarily check every box that the community expects from a particular program or training call," he said. "There is a perception that law enforcement need to be seen doing something ... it's not necessarily going to have the desired outcomes that they want it to achieve."