It is an unfortunate reality that law enforcement is usually the first responders when an individual is suffering from a mental health crisis. Interactions between individuals in crisis and law enforcement can sometimes have tragic consequences. Without proper training, a police officer may not know how to handle someone with a mental health issue. In order to curb this problem, some law enforcement agencies, such as the Pasco County Sheriff's Office in Florida, have formed mental health units who specialize in these situations.
Mental Health Unit
The Pasco County Sheriff has established a new unit called the Mental Health and Threat Assessment Team, which will interact directly with individuals who are experiencing a mental health crisis. The lieutenant placed in charge of the unit has traveled around the country to see how other agencies have managed the interaction between mental illness and policing. This new unit will consist of deputies who have received specialized training in how to deescalate situations involving mental health crises.
Pasco County deputies responded to nearly 20,000 mental health calls in 2018 alone. About 500 of these calls resulted in people being involuntarily hospitalized. There was a clearly a need for a specialized unit, but will it go far enough? One unit may not be sufficient to cover all mental health calls. All law enforcement officers should receive sufficient training on how to manage these calls. It is important for officers to recognize the diversity of the people they serve and have the proper tools for recognizing and deescalating situations involving mental health crises.
When states like Florida make cuts to mental health services, the need for appropriately trained law enforcement becomes even more essential. It can be helpful to have specialized units that have input from mental health professionals. However, it is also important for officers and deputies on the street to have sufficient knowledge to recognize when there is a mental health issue. This can prevent tragic situations from occurring.
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.