CIRT: Crisis Intervention Response Team
by Jess Luoma
If you've worked with the homeless for any length of time, you've probably found that most do not harbor positive feelings toward law enforcement. Many have experienced "red tagging" (or being told to leave their tent/encampment because it is deemed as unsafe or illegal to dwell in). Many have experienced negative physical and verbal interactions with authority as well. Historically, the issues that plague those experiencing homelessness have not been handled well by law enforcement, primarily due to a lack of training in trauma-informed care. Unfortunately, those who have earned their badge to serve and protect, often have not earned the trust of some of the most vulnerable on our streets.
In the same breath, there is a need for protection as these men and women experience crisis-- needs that have not been addressed by the current systems of justice and care. Homelessness, addiction, trauma-- these are complex issues and they require answers that care for the whole person and draw from trauma-informed research and practices.
As the complexity of these issues has come to a head, the Redding Police Department has discovered the need for a new system to fill the gap between the people who are in the criminal justice system and the mental health system. Drawing from the successful model of the San Antonio Police Department's CIT (Crisis Intervention Team), the Redding Police Department followed suit to start its very own CIRT in January 2021.
Two plain-clothed officers driving unmarked cars, Teddy Snyder and Devin Ketel, and one HHSA mental health clinician, Nikki Brandon, make up the team. Together, their level of experience and expertise, have proven remarkably effective. Their goal is to de-escalate situations involving someone experiencing a mental health or emotional crisis and divert them from the criminal justice system. As we collectively are experiencing an unprecedented, difficult time in our country, we've seen severe mental health crisis, homelessness and addiction increase across the board. The CIRT team is there to compassionately respond to those who are suffering, especially those who have a long track record of incarceration and hospitalization and provide immediate care and long-term resources like rehab and housing.
Recently, they responded to a man waving a bat at his neighbors. Ketel said this could have been brandishing or assault with a deadly weapon, but instead they were able to help the man and get him into a mental health hospital (KRCR).
The team focuses on building non-threatening relationships and trust with folks as they work with them long-term to help them meet their goals of stability and wholeness. Because of this, they've earned a reputable standing among the homeless as a team that is genuinely there to help as friends.
CIRT differentiates from the Mobile Crisis Outreach Team at Hill Country, in that they are able to respond to crisis situations like the above-mentioned where an imminent safety threat is at play. Officer Snyder and Officer Ketel are both members of the Crisis Negotiation Team where they are trained to help those in crisis with any form of weapon surrender peacefully. Both crisis intervention teams can write 5150 holds for those who are a danger to themselves or others and frequently work together.
The fundamental barrier to housing stability is healing from a catastrophic loss of family. Practically, another huge barrier to housing stability, which leads to mental and emotional stability, is finding homes for pets that are often not allowed in most places offering affordable housing. They believe that there is a solution to this problem, and as a community, we can creatively solve this so more of our homeless community can recover from their addictions and trauma and reintegrate as beautifully productive members of our city.
In conclusion, we are grateful for and in support of Redding's Crisis Intervention Response Team. We hope that this model of care replicates in our city and beyond. If you see someone in crisis, please call them at (530) 225-4200.
*Officer Teddy Snyder was recently promoted and has been replaced by Officer Joanna Bland.