Cleveland Police Propose Changes to Crisis Situation Guidelines

Crisis Intervention Team pin worn by officers with specialized training [photo: ideastream]
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The Cleveland Police Department has proposed new guidelines for officers called to handle health crisis situations.  It’s part of the city’s police reform efforts with the US Justice Department.  

The guidelines start at the beginning of an encounter -- with dispatchers trained to send a Crisis Intervention Team officer to handle any incidents that might involve a behavioral health issue.  The CIT officers, who have received specialized training in de-escalation, suicide interventions, and handling juveniles with mental illness, will “only use force which is necessary, proportional to the level of resistance, and objectively reasonable based on the totality of the circumstances confronting the officer,” according to the draft proposal. “Force is NOT to be used for expediency.”

The Cleveland Police Department’s CIT Coordinator, Captain James Purcell, says officers will approach health crisis situations with a different mindset.

“The approach they take, the conversation that takes place, if it has to come to they need an intervention where they might need a higher level of psychiatric care, we want to guide them in how to do that.  We weren’t trying to look at a specific situation, we were looking at a guideline for all situations.” 

In November 2014, the death of 37-year-old Tanisha Anderson while in police custody drew attention to the way local law enforcement handles cases involving mental illness.  The Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner ruled the death a homicide associated with heart disease, bipolar disorder, and physical restraint in the prone position. 

Less than a month later, a DOJ report found officers in the Cleveland Police Department “use excessive force against individuals who are in mental health crisis.” 

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