Integrate training, the key expectations of the police response to mental crises
As the responsibilities of our profession are continually assessed, one of the emerging concepts is that of co-advocate models that pair sworn peace officers with mental health professionals to respond to mental health crisis calls.
Our neighbors are finally starting to understand what some of us have been saying for some time, that peace officers are not always the best option when it comes to mental health. Personally, I still believe, as I wrote previously, that peace officers should be completely removed from mental health interventions in most cases in the absence of difficult circumstances.
That said, the trend for co-respondent models is on the rise and the demand for these specialist mental health care providers is increasing. This article presents three considerations for agencies looking to implement a co-sponsor program.
1. Evaluate available suppliers
The idea of training mental health care providers to respond to mental health calls with peace officers sounds good, but some jurisdictions have struggled to find providers.
The shortage of providers can often be attributed to the fact that educational institutions train mental health providers to perform their work in clinical settings. Most educational institutions do not teach social workers, counselors and psychologists to answer calls in the field.
Agencies considering these models may wish to partner with educational institutions and mental health providers to organize training to prepare these professionals to respond to calls in the field.
Agencies may also want to invest in referring some of their officers to school to become mental health care providers.
In addition, agencies located in more rural areas may wish to engage their state legislators to provide these professionals with financial incentives, as these areas often have more difficulty than metropolitan areas in attracting and retaining such professionals.
2. Conduct integrated training
The fields of law enforcement and mental health may have different perspectives on the types of decisions to be made in responding to those experiencing a mental health crisis. Each may even have different goals and expected outcomes when responding to these calls.
The only way to align everyone is to have common training. The importance of this cannot be underestimated and failure to do so could lead to negative results. For example, when it comes to responding to a person in a mental health crisis who is suicidal, armed with a gun and alone in his residence. who decides what actions to take? Who decides whether or not an active intervention will be undertaken?
Without training and alignment, answering these questions might be more difficult than they already are.
3. Set realistic expectations with your neighbors
While these models may help reduce deadly force encounters between citizens and law enforcement, we will still have the person experiencing a mental health crisis who successfully commits suicide in the presence of co-responders. We will always have a 16-year-old autistic child the size of an NFL linebacker who faces a physical showdown with co-sponsors. The key when communicating about implementing co-responder models is that they will help reduce but not eliminate all of the negative outcomes associated with responding to those calls.
I have looked at many programs nationwide and these are the main points I have emphasized. I believe that if these elements are taken into account, the implementation of these models will have better results for us and our neighbors.
NEXT: Roundtable: How to Develop an Effective Mental Health Intervention Program