Heart of Iowa Community Services is passionate about improving our communities, connecting Iowans to mental health help that gets to the root of the cause and keeping individuals out of incarceration when they could be best served through other supports. That’s why we created the Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Co-Responder Program.

We’re proud to announce that since July 1, 2022, our CIT Co-Responder Program has prevented nearly 370 central Iowans from being incarcerated when they could be better served outside of jail. Of the cases that would have likely resulted in arrest before this program, 98% of cases now served through this model were kept out of jail.

Created and implemented by HICS, Inside Out Wellness & Advocacy and central Iowa law enforcement agencies, the CIT Co-Responder Program partners one mental health professional and one law enforcement officer — both fully trained in crisis intervention tactics — as one full-time team embedded within the law enforcement agency. If an area police department receives a call about someone experiencing a mental health crisis, the mental health professional and trained officer respond together.

The program was born when Waukee Police Department Chief John Quinn asked Darci Alt, CEO at HICS, to help create a solution that could more quickly and effectively provide help to people with mental health issues in the community. This request came because local patrol officers were spending a lot of time on calls with people experiencing mental health related issues, and the same people would often call for help multiple times.

“This is the only model of its kind in the state. There are other co-responder models within the state that aim to have social workers and mental health professionals more embedded within law enforcement, but our program takes it a step further. By pairing a mental health professional and a police officer to arrive on-scene to mental health calls at the same time, they reach individuals quickly, de-escalate the situation and determine the best course of action based on the expertise they both bring to the table.”

Darci Alt, Mental Health Director & CEO, Heart of Iowa Region

The co-response model is backed by extensive research from across the country. Law enforcement agencies who participated in CIT training include Waukee, Clive, Urbandale, West Des Moines, Dallas County, Adel, Guthrie County, Woodward and Perry for a total of more than 370 law enforcement personnel trained as of July 2023. This program is also supported by mental health professionals from Inside Out and with training from SolutionPoint+.

When officers are dispatched to a scene for a burglary, harassment or a welfare check, they often realize it’s a mental health or behavioral health call instead. The co-responder teams take a soft approach by driving an unmarked car and wearing plain clothes to avoid causing a scene or undue panic in others not involved in the situation. 

People are taught from a young age to call 911 in a crisis because on-duty officers are available to respond 24/7. While police have always taken mental health calls, they haven’t traditionally been provided with every available resource to offer to the individuals they are serving. Through this program, police officers respond alongside other trained professionals to determine if the person is exhibiting criminal-like behavior or misconduct due to mental health struggles or because they are in crisis. Officers can de-escalate the situation and provide long-term solutions to serve the individuals in need.

This program has already decreased the number of reoccurring calls to each police department, showing that CIT Co-Responders have directed individuals to helpful resources and, as a result, improved people’s lives. 

The following data is for the CIT Co-Responder Program between July 1, 2022, and Nov. 30, 2023, compiled in partnership with the Clive, Urbandale, Waukee and West Des Moines police departments.

  • Between the participating agencies, CIT Co-Responder teams have responded to 2,486 calls for service.
  • 367 central Iowans experiencing mental health challenges were diverted from jail.
  • 157 individuals were transported to a hospital or crisis stabilization residential services facilities.
  • 572 people were referred to additional services.
  • 98% of individuals received necessary support that kept them out of jail when they otherwise may have been arrested.
  • 8 out of every 10 individuals served were de-escalated and have remained stable in their community.
  • 84% of the team’s time is spent directly with individuals being served.

“Both mental health professionals and law enforcement officials have long had a specific goal when it comes to helping those experiencing a mental health crisis or ongoing mental health-related challenges: We want to keep people out of jails and hospitals and reduce recidivism,” Darci said. “Through this program, we’re making great strides toward that goal.”

HICS is thrilled to announce that more central and western area Iowa enforcement agencies have committed to CIT training and participating in the program in 2024.

To learn more about the CIT Co-Responder Program, visit HICSIowa.org.