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Mental health professionals can significantly improve the efficiency of crisis intervention training. Law enforcement agents are trained to handle a variety of life-threatening situations, from talking down a suspect wielding a weapon to evacuating large areas following a natural disaster.
In their 2013 report, researchers from the National Sheriff’s Association and Treatment Advocacy Center (TAC) agreed with earlier analysis that claimed half of the people shot and killed by police each year have mental health problems. Law enforcement needs guidance and participation from mental health agencies to shepherd struggling individuals to professional care before an encounter turns fatal. The transfer of responsibility for mentally ill persons from mental health professionals to law enforcement officers is patently illogical. To help those suffering SMI to weather their confrontations with police, TAC recommends greater implementation of assisted outpatient treatment (AOT), which specifies that individuals with SMI who might be a danger may be court-ordered to take medication for their psychiatric disorder as a condition for living in the community. While there are no universally-adopted criteria for mental health training in law enforcement, crisis intervention training is available in the majority of U.S.
Officers enrolled in these courses undergo 40 hours of comprehensive mental health training, learning the best tactics for engaging suspects experiencing SMI. Since the programs began in 1988, CIT-trained officers are less likely to use force or suffer injuries when responding to mental health calls. To prepare officers to engage these citizens, CIT programs provide background knowledge and teach empathy critical for de-escalating a situation involving mental illness.
Some communities are asking mental health professionals to provide that assistance to officers in the field, where their expertise is most likely to make a difference.
The Yolo County initiative is part of California’s Mental Health Wellness Act of 2013, which aimed to expand officer access to crisis intervention and assistance.
By working with mental health agencies, police officers help ensure that people experiencing mental illness are receiving the best and most effective treatment. News brought to you by Envisage Technologies, building software for law enforcement, public safety and the military. Even when officers are well prepared, certain situations may require the assistance of other professionals. For 9.3 million Americans the problems can be severe enough to impede their ability to act rationally. While the number of justifiable homicides between 1980 and 2012 decreased by 5 percent, TAC noted that deaths attributed to attacks on police officers increased 67 percent during that same time period .
The Department of Justice considers AOT to be evidence-based and effective: studies show AOT decreases homelessness, psychiatric hospitalizations, arrests, days incarcerated and financial costs to a community. But Major Sam Cochran, the first coordinator of the Memphis program, believes program goals extend far beyond training.
Laura Usher, the CIT program manager at National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), recognizes that law enforcement agencies typically can’t afford to train everyone.
However, having mental health professionals on the scene can greatly improve the service provided to troubled individuals.
According to The Sacramento Bee, California’s Yolo County was granted nearly $2 million from the state to strengthen its community response to suspects in crisis.
Mental health professionals contribute critical insights aimed at helping the officer connect with a troubled individual and then guide that person toward appropriate care. These professionals become especially important when law enforcement agents engage people with severe mental illness (SMI).
Researchers predict that widespread use of AOT could reduce the number of SMI-related justifiable homicides by half. Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) programs are local initiatives designed to improve the way law enforcement and their communities respond to people experiencing mental health crises.
Crises involving mental illness represent a significant 10 percent of emergency calls, but departments could become over-resourced after investing in comprehensive CIT training. Enlisting the assistance of professionals for officer training can save department resources, as well as lives. Yet, they are ten times more likely to be incarcerated than committed to a state psychiatric hospital.
To take people trained in law enforcement and use them as mental health professionals is a grossly inappropriate use of their skills. The strong partnerships between local law enforcement, mental health providers and families impacted by mental illness comprise the foundation of CIT. A survey reported by Michael Woody, president of CIT International, showed that most states required officers to receive no more than 8 hours of training. The county hopes to reduce the overall number of deaths and hospitalizations among mentally ill suspects. Increasingly, police officers serve as the first line of contact when those living with mental illness are at their most disoriented.
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