“Improving Police Response to Persons Affected by Mental Illness”

Join the IACP ONE MIND Pledge Today!

Commit to implementing the 4 Strategies within the next 12-36 months.

The One Mind Campaign was launched in October, 2016, at the IACP San Diego Conference. It is a full-force effort to train not only police officers, but all who deal with the mentally ill; the 4 core strategies provide the foundation for innovative changes in how the mentally ill are perceived and handled. So far, 63 police departments around the U.S.A. have taken the One Mind Pledge. The mission of ONE MIND is to achieve successful interactions among the Law Enforcement, the Community, and the Mentally Ill by following a model policy created by the 3 groups themselves who are involved in interacting with and fostering the wellbeing of the mentally challenged and of` individuals in crisis in their towns and cities.

In March, 2016, at the IACP Symposium, a diverse, advisory group of experts in psychology, law enforcement, private and public treatment programs, and government agencies came together to lay the groundwork to discuss mental health issues. After much consideration and deliberation, they devised an initiative, the One Mind Campaign, to help ensure positive encounters between police officers and those who are mentally ill. This comprehensive strategy is yet another effort instituted by the IACP to take Law Enforcement Departments both local and state fully into 21st Century policing.

Today, more than ever, Law Enforcement Agencies are often on the frontline when dealing with individuals who have mental health problems because a decline in funding for state mental institutions has often turned troubled individuals out onto the streets. In the mid 1950’s, there were 337 beds out of 100,000 allocated for mentally ill patients; today that number is just 11.7 beds! The majority of mentally ill end up with no place to go, so live hidden away from society on the streets; that’s one key place where law enforcement becomes involved.

Another is in homes. Often family members have no choice but to keep their troubled loved ones at home, and often they have no one else to call but the police when they need help managing and controlling the behavior of those they are caring for. Because there is no one else to turn to, law enforcement officers are forced into positions they are not prepared for, as social workers, mediators, and caregivers, when called to an incident at a home or on the street that involves a person who is not mentally stable. Too many times, officers are simply not sufficiently trained by their agencies to recognize who they are dealing with, so misunderstandings and inappropriate interaction happen among the parties, often ending in injury and even death.

Knowing how to properly identify a mentally disturbed person who means no harm, from an aggressive individual who does, in just a few seconds, is a skill that few officers have. Proper, targeted training will enable first responders to quickly assess a situation, know how to handle an individual, make a judgement, and determine if a person should be taken to jail or to the community or faith-based institution that their agency is partnered with. By following the 4 IACP ONE MIND CAMPAIGN strategies, all become involved with de-escalating situations and calming down troubled individuals; they will be well on their way to successful encounters.

THE FOUR STRATEGIES

First: ESTABLISH a close, workable PARTNERSHIP with one or more mental health organizations in your community. Police Departments face limited resources, so joining forces, pooling resources, and sharing responsibility with private and public mental health organizations and/or faith-based groups will benefit all involved. This is the First Strategy, creating partnerships.

Creating a good working relationship with mental health groups in a community gives law enforcement officers a chance to share the responsibilities when dealing with the mentally ill. Community participants have more options and more flexibility; partners can offer much-needed assistance, counseling, treatments, and even halfway houses as places of refuge for an anxious, disoriented person instead of incarceration. In most cases, jail would have been the only choice a police officer would have had. When working with mental health partners, there are more viable, workable options for police officers.

Second: CREATE a Model Policy known as the MENTAL HEALTH FIRST AID FOR PUBLIC SAFETY program with public/private organizations based on trust and the willingness to achieve full implementation. It is of paramount importance to prepare policemen and policewomen with ways to cope with this ever-growing problem, for they are often required to assume roles without clear policy direction in how to perform them.

In 2014, IACP introduced 2 documents which offer suggestions on how to set up and what elements to include in a ONE MIND inter-community program: the Model Policy on Responding to Persons Affected by Mental Illness or in Crisis and Concepts and Issues Paper. The Model Policy discusses very specific intervention techniques like turning off sirens and flashing lights which could heighten the anxiety of already stressed individuals. Avoiding physical contact where there has been no violence or destructive acts are just a few simple, basic actions for officers to remember when a person is suspected of being disturbed. The Concepts and Issues Paper is created for police executives giving them examples of how to tailor their agencies to meet the needs of their specific communities.

The Model Policy is designed to show officers how to recognize abnormal behavior, how to assess risk to themselves and those they encounter, and how to use appropriate levels of response to persons affected by mental health issues or who are in crisis.

Third: TRAIN 100% of your agency’s sworn officers (and selected non-sworn staff) according to the guidelines of the joint Mental Health First Aid program; then CERTIFY Trainees once they have mastered the elements of the program. IACP promotes the MHFA 8-hour introductory course shows ways to make possible and to provide positive initial help and support to those in mental turmoil.

Over 780,000 individuals across the U.S., dedicated to making ‘things’ better, have been trained in Mental Health First Aid by more than 11,200 instructors. The leading states in this training effort are: California, Pennsylvania, Texas, Michigan, and Missouri.

The highly successful MHFA training is well praised by those in all types of institutions. Lt. Virgil Meyer, Pennsylvania Department of Corrections says: “I wish that every corrections officer could receive Mental Health First Aid training. I believe that our corrections system would be better because of it – the inmates would benefit, the officers would benefit and ultimately our communities would benefit.

Deputy Fire Chief, Clifton Fire Department, Michael Allora tells how taking the program opened up discussions concerning this ‘taboo’ subject: “In January, the Clifton Fire Department made a major commitment and engaged the Mental Health Association in Passaic County (MHAPC) to train all 125 members of our team in Mental Health First Aid. We use the tools and techniques we learned every day. Since completing training, I’ve noticed that there is more conversation about mental health among members of our team, and that is helping reduce the stigma associated with behavioral health issues. People at the Clifton Fire Department are using what they learned in the course in their personal lives as well as their professional lives.

Fourth: CREATE a special CRISIS INTERVENTION TEAM who will train in the 40-hour CIT course. This group is comprised of 20% of the best, most dedicated individuals either sworn or non-sworn in the agency. It is a collaborative effort among law enforcement officers and mental health providers who together try to provide the best, most effective crisis intervention to those in need. These professionals at all levels make every effort to focus on diversion and treatment over arrest and incarceration, and through intensive CIT training learn how to channel every encounter towards this positive outcome.

MENTAL HEALTH STATISTICS

Dealing with mentally ill people is not just a problem in the United States; many other countries have the same problems: reduced funding and fewer hospital beds for those who are very disturbed. From 2011-2014, Great Britain has conservatively reported that there has been an increase of 33% in police dealings with people who show signs of mental illness. Canada reports that 40% of police civilian shooting deaths involve the mentally ill. There has been a recognized need for additional training of officers and new ways to help the mentally ill not only in the U.S. A., but globally. SMART 911 is a newly created division of the HELP LINE where vital information is stored regarding a mentally ill person, so that officers can be forewarned before interacting with them. At all levels those in charge are realizing more and more that the mentally ill are not criminals and should never be treated as if they were.

HELPING THE MENTALLY ILL TODAY AND TOMORROW

Law Enforcement and other State and Federal Agencies across our nation and around the world, know that they must train those on the frontline to identify and to provide the right assistance to the mentally incapacitated whether it is from illness, drugs, or stress. The ONE MIND CAMPAIGN is a systematic program with hands-on, viable techniques that produce positive results. It is a way for progressive, forward-thinking agencies to make a real commitment to better serve all members of their communities.

Today first-responder executives realize that they don’t provide services in a vacuum; their departments are part of a community. As Fire Chief Michael Allora says: “We don’t provide our services to buildings. We don’t provide our services to corporations. We provide our services to people. We are people who provide services to other people.

IS YOUR AGENCY READY TO TAKE THE PLEDGE?

By: K. A. Huffman

References: