Mental health crisis intervention officers receive award

Champaign County’s Crisis Intervention Team officers were recently recognized by a community partner for their work connecting individuals with mental and behavioral health needs to the appropriate resources.

Increasingly, police get the first call when someone is experiencing a mental health crisis. More than 100 Crisis Intervention Team officers across the various Champaign County law enforcement agencies are specially trained to recognize when someone is experiencing a mental health crisis and to respond appropriately.

In April, Champaign County Health Care Consumers presented the county’s Crisis Intervention Team officers with the Harry J. Baker Community Service Award for that work. Captain Karee Voges of the Champaign County Sheriff’s Office, Champaign Police Lt. Mark Vogelzang and U. of I. Police Officer Brian Tison attended the ceremony to accept the award on behalf of the team.

In Champaign County, there are about 150 calls every month for a CIT-trained officer. The most frequent of these calls are for people who are having suicidal thoughts or ideations.

“What I have learned from working in these collaborations, and also through personal experience when I myself have had to call for CIT with clients, is that the officers who do the CIT work are the front-line, on-the-streets mental health first responders,” said Claudia Lennhoff, executive director of Champaign County Health Care Consumers. “They are an essential but almost invisible part of the fabric of our mental health system in this community.”

Where the work of the CIT officers and Champaign County Health Care Consumers overlaps, Lennhoff said, is their collaboration to reduce recidivism and the length of incarceration of individuals with mental and behavioral health needs.

“People’s lives are messy and this can be really hard work. The (CIT officers) understand that,” Lennhoff said. “They bring to their work an ethic of caring and a commitment to help improve people’s lives, while serving the public’s safety.”

Tison, the CIT coordinator for the University of Illinois Police Department, said the award is a great honor for CIT officers. He said it is widely documented that college students are increasingly in need of mental health resources, and it is important that UIPD officers are able to recognize those needs and help connect students with resources.

“CIT training is another tool police officers have when responding to these calls, which we’re seeing more and more frequently,” Tison said. “It’s so important for our students to understand that they can call 911 in their time of need and that we will be on our way to assist in every way possible.”