MPD celebrates 100th graduation class of its Crisis Intervention Team program

Published: Oct. 26, 2022 at 10:36 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Memphis police celebrated a nationwide success story after the department’s 100th training class of Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) officers graduated on Wednesday.

In 1988, MPD partnered with the Memphis Chapter of the Alliance for the Mentally Ill, mental health providers, and two local universities to develop CIT as a means of de-escalating mental crisis events.

Since then, 3,000 police departments across America and many around the world have adopted the “Memphis Model” for resolving crises peacefully.

“Your job is to help the person find a way out of the crisis,” said psychologist Dr. Tom Kirchberg, who teaches first responders the art of diffusing potentially explosive situations.

“You have to stand in front of neighbors and citizens who are upset about something. And you gotta use your skills to try to resolve. That’s tough work,” Dr. Kirchberg said.

Lieutenant Steven Foglesong is a CIT supervisor. He says that Dr. Kirchberg has been teaching for the program since its inception in 1988.

“He along with multiple other doctors, psychologists and psychiatrists donate their time and energy to this program and they do it for free,” he said.

Kirchberg and his counterparts coach first responders as they role-play scenarios like one where a firefighter plays a paranoid rideshare passenger.

Officer Otis Fox says he’s seen a real-life barricade situation involving a family member get resolved by a CIT officer.

“I realized... this is what I want to do. [The CIT officer] appeared to love what he was doing, the passion he had about it. It truly changed me,” Fox said.

Officer Nigel Payne also witnessed another Crisis Intervention teammate diffuse a crisis with calm and creativity.

“Every situation is different and that’s kind of the joy of it, to be honest with you... it’s the plug-and-play,” Payne said. “You’re going to figure out what works, and what doesn’t work. What you can do, what you can’t do. Those things make CIT a great program.”

The 100th training class of CIT officers means about 10% of the Memphis force has crisis training.

Ideally, there’s one CIT officer on duty at each police precinct on every shift.

But, the police are just one part of the team. CIT officers have included first responders from EMTs to firefighters to mental health professionals in training since 1988.

“To me, this is the proof in the pudding that the program works and it’s continued to work for 34 years,” Foglesong said. “It’s only getting better.”

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