A Lecture from a Hero of Mine

I was delighted when I opened my email and discovered that Major Sam CochrenMajor Sam Cochran, who often is called the “Father of Crisis Intervention Training,” had sent me a note. Sam is one of my heroes and has probably saved more lives of police officers, persons with mental illness, and their loved ones, than anyone else in our nation in recent times. He is also a modest and decent guy who is dedicated to helping persons such as my son even though he does not have a family member with a mental illness.

I tell Sam’s  story in my book and describe the key role that he played in developing CIT in Memphis, then spreading it across the nation and now internationally. Talk about someone who is making an impact!

The reason Sam was writing was to give me a well-deserved lecture — in his gentle, Southern way.

He’d read the Washington Post Op Ed piece that I had written about the police shooting of David Masters (click here) and was disappointed that I had described CIT as a program that taught the police how to handle persons with mental illness.

Dear Pete ……CIT is NOT a law enforcement program — it is a community program…I know your article was not a fact finding story on the Fairfax CIT program, but I was shaken by the comments suggesting that two law enforcement officers were assuming or fulfilling the “heartbeat” of CIT for the Fairfax community — (In the OP piece, I had explained that the Fairfax police department had dropped CIT training because the two officers who had taught it had been promoted and their bosses did not consider CIT a priority.)

Much to discuss here, but my thoughts in reading this information focused on questions of:  “Where’s the community?  Where’s the partnerships?”

Sam went on to explain that CIT has to receive support not only from law enforcement but also the mental health community and its advocates.

Yes, other partners will be added into this mission, but for sure the three mentioned partners must be engaged and committed to this cause (passion/mission). CIT is a platform to promote and initiate a changing of hearts; but, the platform is not just a training program.  Again, training is great — but, training without supportive state, county and local support (community services, care with hope) is a cosmetic approach; a band-aid approach at best in addressing this necessary demand – it is about care for our people – our community. CIT is an awakening for people to live as a community with “heart.”

When the community takes ownership of CIT (not just a training program) and of the responsibility to render care services beyond the criminal justice system then “changes” will be the by-product of the new “hearts.”  I am sure your message will cause people to review CIT again.   I hope this review will be structured on a foundation supported by the community and not solely by the good will and good intentions of “just” training, but rather, a community approach supported by community ownership. “

Sam is spot on. In my article, I had done what we often do in the mental health community. I had seen CIT as a police training program and in doing so,  had undercut it.  I had become one of those folks who ask “why don’t the police do something?” rather than asking the bigger question of “why is our community not doing something?”

Sam sees CIT as a way to fight stigma, to educate, to get the community involved in changing from within, as he puts it, developing “hearts.”

His vision is what our’s should be and his point — that CIT without community services and support from the mental health community is doomed to be less effective — is worth repeating.

So what are we doing in Fairfax and what are you doing as an advocate in your community to make certain that CIT is not simply a police training mission, but a way to change your community and improve all of our lives?

Where are our hearts?

About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.