Matching Your Energy: The Police, Violence, and Mental Illness in America

Gabriel Nathan
9 min readMar 17
Don’t worry; we’re here to de-escalate. (Photo by Max Fleischmann on Unsplash)

Beginning on January 1, 2019, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI, for those who like acronyms and lightly buttered toast) began a nationwide collection of data relating to use-of-force incidents by police officers. Who was watching the cops and keeping data before? Newspapers, like the Washington Post.

Interestingly (and unsurprisingly) the FBI has been tracking officers killed or assaulted in the line of duty since 1960, with a data collection program known as LEOKA (Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted — again, acronyms and toast are delicious). If you’re of the #thinblueline, #bluelivesmatter, #copsgunsandapplepie persuasion and want to argue against my not-very-thinly veiled implication that cops only really give a shit about other cops, then I would love it if you would please opine on why it took 59 years, countless dead, often unarmed individuals, scant numbers of officers held accountable, and a national uproar, for the FBI to institute data collection for violence perpetrated by police officers, along with that which is perpetrated against them.

But I digress. I mean, not really, but it’s something people say.

In 1986, the Memphis Police Department, in response to the growing number of radio calls officers were receiving that were mental health related, created CIT (acronyms, in case you haven’t noticed, are a gift from thine Lord), which stands for Crisis Intervention Team or, “The Memphis Model”. Basically, it is course designed to educate officers about mental illness; to give them insight into some behaviors individuals they may encounter might be exhibiting, give them a cursory overview of certain diagnoses and symptoms, and to teach them to approach individuals who may be experiencing a crisis or psychiatric emergency in a manner different from what they were taught at the academy; refrain from exiting your vehicle and immediately barking orders, try to de-escalate the situation however possible, if safe to do so, take your time, give the person space, and, if such a place other than jail exists where the incident is happening: try to get the person there. In CIT, only certain officers undergo the training. In some departments, (bizarrely) only CIT-trained officers carry Tasers. Sometimes, officers volunteer to become…

Gabriel Nathan

Gabe is Editor in Chief of OC87 Recovery Diaries, a mental health publication. He drives an old VW year round and wears corduroy trousers in the summer.