© 2024 Ideastream Public Media

1375 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio 44115
(216) 916-6100 | (877) 399-3307

WKSU is a public media service licensed to Kent State University and operated by Ideastream Public Media.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Cleveland Police making strides to improve mental health crisis response, data show

Demonstrators lay down in Public Square Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2014, in Cleveland. One person holds a large sign with the names of people killed by police.
Tony Dejak
Demonstrators lay down in Public Square Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2014, in Cleveland, during a protest over the weekend police shooting of Tamir Rice. The 12-year-old was fatally shot by a Cleveland police officer Saturday while playing with a replica gun at a city park.

The Cleveland Police Department’s reforms to the way officers handle people in mental health crisis appear to be taking hold, according to data released this week by the city.

During 2023, the department received 5,0003 calls labeled as crisis intervention.

City officials point to the percentage of those calls that resulted in uses of force — about 0.4%, according to police figures. Just three of the people who had force used on them were injured as a result.

“Officers are recognizing when someone needs help, and they are using de-escalation properly and they are moving towards ensuring that the individual is safe and that the officers themselves are safe,” said the head of the city’s Police Accountability Team Dr. Leigh Anderson. “And that is a really, really big deal.”

The 2015 consent decree between the city and U.S. Department of Justice required reforms to the way the department responds to people during a mental health crisis. A DOJ investigation of the department in 2014 found a pattern of “excessive force against persons who are mentally ill or in crisis, including in cases where the officers were called exclusively for a welfare check.”

The monitor overseeing the consent decree frequently points to crisis intervention as an area where the city has made the most progress. All officers receive eight hours of crisis intervention training or CIT. Officers can also take a 40-hour specialized training.

Those specialized CIT officers are all volunteers.

“We're really proud of what we're doing,” said the acting captain in charge of the department’s crisis intervention team, John Mullin. “If we get out of [the consent decree] tomorrow, we're still going to be doing this. Our passion is still going to be here. And we're not going to say, you know, ‘OK, job's done. Now we can go back to the way we did it before.’”

Mullin attended a previous version of the training, back in 2012, and said it’s changed since the consent decree came to focus on de-escalation techniques.

“A lot of people are just frustrated that... everyone's telling them what to do, right? The doctors, judges, probation — no one ever listens to them,” Mullin said. “When we send those teams there, we really try to emphasize that — to be that person, to listen to them.”

The most common type of crisis intervention calls in 2023 were for suicides — either threatened or in-process — making up about 31% of the total, according to the data. The second most common calls labeled crisis intervention were for domestic violence.

When 911 labels a call as “crisis intervention,” dispatch sends a specially trained crisis intervention officer to the scene if one is available. That happened in just 43% of the CIT calls citywide in 2023. In the 4th District, where more of these kinds of calls came in than in any other district, the share of calls that included a specialized CIT officer was 31%.

The department has a total of 90 CIT officers available to respond to calls, according to Mullin, who said the department would like to have a CIT officer at every one of the calls.

He said some districts have trouble sparing patrol officers for the weeklong specialized training. And officers are required to have at least three years on the job before specializing in crisis intervention. That’s a challenge because, according to Mullin, they’re finding more recruits interested in that work than experienced officers.

The department also has kept the specialized CIT role voluntary.

“I definitely agree with it being voluntary,” said senior strategist for public safety in the Cleveland Department of Health, Angela Cecys. “They have to be willing to accept new ideas and to see people in a different light and to want to help them more than just quickly responding to calls and then moving on.”

The consent decree monitor is planning to assess the city’s progress on crisis intervention this year, and potentially move the city into compliance for that part of the decree, said Anderson.

“We are making an effort to really get this right,” said Anderson. “This all has really come together and has really underscored what it means to really assist individuals and improve safety.”

Matthew Richmond is a reporter/producer focused on criminal justice issues at Ideastream Public Media.