Rethinking Mental Health Crisis Response
Updated: Mar 22
As a police officer, many of the calls we attend are related to mental health. I’ve personally talked people through calls where in a moment of crisis and desperation they threaten to take their lives. It is an incredibly heavy burden to look into the eyes of someone threatening to take their life, knowing that you and your abilities are what may make the difference.
There are many great officers with the skill set and the training to effectively handle thousands of these calls with compassion and professionalism. However, unless there is a criminal or safety issue, many of these individuals need help beyond what police can provide.
It is frustrating to see police respond to the same people in crisis, over and over without the intervention support and tools to make an impact. The most severe cases of mental illness require clinical and medical support —which often isn’t there.
There isn’t a person reading this that doesn’t know someone who has suffered from some form of mental illness.
I also think it’s important to have appropriate aftercare at the county level and inpatient treatment for those who need that level of support.
We need to ask ourselves should law enforcement be the primary response?
My answer is no. Although there may be times when we need a role, we need to expand options that provide people the help they need.
This is one of the most challenging issues of our profession and we all must work to ensure that the proper resources are available to those in crisis.
What Can We Do?
Supporting Expanding Mobile Crisis Intervention and Co-Responder Models
We need to figure out what we can do to reform mental health responses. As Sheriff, I will fully support non-enforcement clinical interventions when appropriate, programs like the Mental Health Evaluation Team, where officers and clinicians are partnered, and the county A3 behavioral health response system that activates mobile crisis dispatch for behavioral health calls. That includes expanding "co-responder" models like the Mental Health Evaluation Team and supporting the full implementation of the County's A3 model which will provide non-enforcement intervention.
Advocating for Care
I will advocate for more residential psychiatric emergency beds, and aftercare. I will work to advocate for this from our state and federal partners. We need psychiatric inpatient treatment options. We also must end the bifurcated system between AOD (alcohol and other drugs) and behavioral health services so that people who are self-medicating because of their illness get the full range of treatment.
Reducing Repetitive Contacts
We know that often we get calls for service over and over from the same individuals in crisis. We need to prioritize resources to identify those individuals and provide more intervention support to reduce repeat crisis calls for service. I will work to develop responses to identify how we provide support for those who have frequent contact with law enforcement, to reduce repeat calls for service.
Often when a call for service occurs, it may not be immediately clear that a person is having a mental health crisis. We need to ensure that more of our deputies are equipped with Crisis Intervention (CIT) training and provided with additional tools to help navigate the challenges when responding.