are police the right response to a mental health crisis?

When someone is concerned about an individual in the midst of a mental health crisis, their first instinct may be to call 911. In response to these types of calls, frequently, police are sent to the scene. Depending on their training, officers may not be able to determine that someone is having a mental health crisis, and the scene can end in tragedy.

Reducing Encounters

Statistics show that people with untreated mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed during a police encounter than other civilians. In addition, those who are not killed frequently end up in the criminal justice system where they languish in jail rather than receiving the help they need. The logical solution to this problem is to reduce the number of encounters between police and individuals with mental illness.

Officers just don’t have the right training to identify, let alone respond to, an individual with a mental illness. Yet, when 911 is called, officers who may not have been trained to respond to a crisis will arrive on the scene. In the case of a mental health crisis, it would make more sense for someone trained on mental illness to respond to the call.

A pilot project in New York City aims to ensure that happens. Calls are triaged, and mental health calls are rerouted to a hotline that can provide phone counseling and referrals to treatment. In addition, mental health professionals are sent out to check on individuals. While there are problems with the program, including delayed responses and call requirements, the idea behind the rerouting of calls has some promise. Sending out trained mental health professionals, perhaps accompanied by an officer, is a more logical response to a mental health call. The ability to identify a mental health issue and the knowledge of how to deescalate a situation can be crucial in an emergency.

Proper Training

If cities are unwilling to provide the assistance of mental health professionals, then they should establish comprehensive mental health training for their police departments. All officers should be thoroughly trained on how to respond in a crisis. Police should be taught that not all situations can be handled in the same manner, and they should be willing to adjust their approach based on an individual’s circumstances. They should be taught to deescalate situations rather than turning to violent responses. The proper training can protect an individual in a mental health crisis from becoming the victim of a senseless tragedy.

If you or a loved one has a mental disability and has been arrested or convicted of a crime, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side. Elizabeth Kelley specializes in representing individuals with mental disabilities. To schedule a consultation call (509) 991-7058.

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