Riding with the Memphis Police Department’s Crisis Intervention Team

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. --Officer Clinton Langham is your typical officer on the lookout for bad guys, but he is also one of 275 Memphis Police Officers trained and actively working with the Crisis Intervention Team.

"Most of the times if they are not presenting harm to themselves or somebody else, you just want to see how they are doing," said Langham.

They respond to mental health calls, but as we quickly learned on our Friday ride-along, they are still day beat cops checking out suspicious activity .

"Why y'all in my yard?" said a man who officers approached outside his home.

It was a simple check that quickly turned into much more when the man bolted and took off running. That took this routine check to another level.

"Got one running...westbound," said Officer Langham on his police car radio. "He is going through the field. He is in the area of Mosby and Manassas right now. "

Officers never backed down.

"We got him in custody," said Langham. "When he started getting offended because we approached him, that kind gave a red flag this was the guy I was looking for, had several felony warrants for drug possession."

"I ain't did nothing to y'all," said the man as police arrested him.

"Hold up. Hold up. We never disrespected you," said another police officer.

"Y'all did. Y'all came in my house," said the man.

"We weren't in your house. We treated you like a human being," said the officer.

"People have a tendency to try and get away from police," said Langham.

When Officer Langham isn't trying to catch people, he's trying to talk them through a crisis.

"They could be seeing something or hearing voices. That's real to them," said Langham.

It's the work of Crisis Intervention.

Since 1988, they have partnered with mental health providers to better understand and safely deal with police calls that are really mental health issues.

"The CIT officer will normally approach them. The first thing we do, we always talk about talking with your hands, using your hands to talk. So you will see CIT officers with their hands up high. That lets them know you don't have to worry about what's down here. You don't have to worry about what's on my belt because my hands are up high. I am here. You can see my hands so you know I am not here to hurt you," said Lt. Colonel Vincent Beasley, who is the coordinator of the Crisis Intervention Team.

Last year, CIT answered 18,435 calls for issues related to mental illness. Less than two percent of those cases resulted in jail transports. Almost 4,700 went to mental health facilities, places they could get help.

"The number of injuries have come down tremendously since CIT came on board. We are not fighting nearly as many individuals. Individuals are not getting hurt. Officers are not getting hurt. Family members are not getting hurt," said Lt. Beasley.

We sat in on a CIT class about understanding and communicating with the deaf community.

"A lot of times in the deaf community, it's a completely different culture. If they are trying to get someone's attention they might actually wave at someone. A police officer not knowing that might take that as an act of aggression," said Summer Chappell of DeafConnect.

So they learn what to do when they arrive on the scene.

"Some basic sign language, teaching them how to tell somebody to stop or if they need a sign language interpreter," said Chappell.

Officers from as far away as Greenland have been trained on the Memphis CIT model.

"People are coming from all over the world and the nation to be trained on Crisis Intervention. So it's so important to know that our officers are talking individuals off the bridge. They are talking individuals from committing suicide. They are talking individuals out of harming someone," said Memphis Police Director Michael Rallings.

"More people are learning about CIT and not only that, I think they are trusting officers now," said Lt. Beasley.

"They know what we are here for. They know we are gonna take them to the hospital, we are not taking them to jail," said Langham.

CIT officers are also being armed with less lethal weapons like tasers and SL6s.

All precincts and every shift have at least one CIT Officer. They volunteer for the 40 hours of training and still have to do their regular calls, like the one where that suspect fled.

Dispatchers are also trained in crisis intervention. People who call for help should let the dispatcher know the person has mental health issues,  if the person has been diagnosed and what sets the person off.

One of the big cases that was behind the development of the Crisis Intervention Team was the Shannon Street massacre in the 1980s. That's where two Memphis Police officers were held hostage and one of them was tortured and killed.

The man responsible was killed by police along with others in the house with him. He was said to have had mental issues, but the officers sent to his home were not trained to deal with those issues.

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