How To Engage Your Community While Creating Partnerships and Collaboration

As of 2019, almost one out of every five adults in the United States deals with mental illness. That’s 51.5 million people. Approximately ten percent of adults in the United States have a drug problem at some point in their life. Of those ten percent, 75 percent report never receiving any drug treatment or therapy.

These statistics are alarming and vital when considering the criminal justice system and how many people end up incarcerated or under court supervision due to their mental health or substance abuse issues. But, of course, it’s challenging to come up with a precise number. Still, it’s estimated that 65 percent of the United States prison population has an active substance abuse disorder, and 20 percent were under the influence when they were arrested while allegedly committing a crime.

While it’s clear that we need more treatment options in the United States, some methods can be adopted on a community level to help these individuals stay out of the criminal justice system. For example, new programs and community-based response teams are being implemented to respond to 911 calls that involve a person suffering from mental health or substance abuse issues.

There are a significant number of 911 calls throughout the United States that could be handled by someone other than law enforcement. When there’s no significant threat to public safety and a person is clearly in a mental health or substance abuse crisis, there’s no reason for the police to respond. If they do, it should be in collaboration with a trained social worker or clinician.

At least part of the solution, then, is to make sure communities build partnerships and collaborate with law enforcement and other first responders who can assist in these situations. The community members must know they can trust law enforcement, and law enforcement knows that they can trust these new first responder programs that are being implemented. Figuring out how to make these partnerships work is essential.

How To Create Partnerships and Collaboration

To create collaboration and partnerships between law enforcement and other community members, several steps should be taken.

Common Goals

To effectively create and maintain community partnerships and collaboration with law enforcement officers, determining the goals and ensuring that everyone is on the same page is vital. Everyone can probably agree that the police are essential in keeping communities safe, especially if violence is involved.

However, many people also believe that law enforcement doesn’t need to handle 911 calls where there is no real threat to the community, especially when the call has been initiated regarding a person in some mental health crisis. That’s where common goals come in.

Many police chiefs and districts agree that these types of distress calls aren’t and shouldn’t be a job for law enforcement. However, when police are first on the scene, there should be an easy way to refer them to proper services so these individuals can receive help.

While there can continually be improved training for how police officers and other law enforcement officials deal with mental health and substance abuse issues in the community, that doesn’t necessarily mean that has to be the solution. Many community members throughout the country agree that they want the first responders of mental health and substance abuse issues to be someone other than law enforcement. At a minimum, they want law enforcement to be accompanied by someone who has real-world experience with substance abuse and mental illness.

Allocate Duties Appropriately

Another major step that needs to be taken when law enforcement collaborates with community-based response teams is to allocate duties appropriately. It must be clear who is responsible for specific actions that need to be taken.

When does a community-based response team respond to a call? How do they find out that they are needed on a call? What should they do if they get there and they need help from the police?

These are all necessary details to work out to ensure the safety of everyone involved and to make sure the collaboration is as effective as possible.

Programs might include training 911 operators to determine when a community-based response team is needed and when it’s necessary instead of sending law enforcement to a call. Ultimately, this frees up time for law enforcement to respond to calls where they’re genuinely needed and allows community members to feel safer.

Once community-based response programs are implemented, they can foster more trust between the community and law enforcement. If community members genuinely believe that law enforcement wants what’s best for them and the rest of the community, they are more likely to trust the police and call on them when needed.

Build New Partnerships and Maintain Current Ones

Implementing community-based response teams has many benefits, but the community members can’t reap all the benefits without the proper partnerships in place. Law enforcement and the community-based response teams need to work on creating (and maintaining) partnerships with mental health clinics, food banks, churches, and other community resources that a person might need.

Without the availability of mental health clinics and hospitals, it will be impossible to get people the help they need and deserve. Perhaps a community-based response will keep them out of jail for the time being. Still, if the resources they need to offer them aren’t available, they will inevitably end up in the same situation in the future – in crisis, with someone calling 911 because they don’t know what to do or how to help.

Having meetings to discuss the goals and how those goals are going to be accomplished can be very helpful. Allowing everyone involved to have input into how this truly works is essential in establishing realistic goals. In addition, keeping the conversation open and being willing to discuss changes if a program or partnership isn’t working well is vital to building and maintaining cooperation.

Be Flexible

There are many different frameworks for community-based response teams. One system might work well in one community but not in another one. For instance, there will be many more treatment options and more people available to assist in dense, urban areas.

These more populated areas can utilize this abundance of help by involving many community members in the process. However, it might be harder to implement these types of teams in more rural areas where there aren’t as many people available.

Perhaps the better way in these less populated areas is to work with local law enforcement and assist them in learning how to handle situations where a person is dealing with a mental health issue. Certainly, community-based response programs can work in less populated areas, but it’s crucial to stay flexible. It’s more important to implement a program that works and is sustainable than to implement a program that is wrong in size and scope for the community involved.

Obtain Accurate Data

A significant challenge for community-based response teams can sometimes be the difficulty of obtaining accurate data and information about the individual they’re about to encounter when they respond to a call. One main goal of these response teams is to divert people away from the criminal justice system and into treatment, which is where they truly need to be.

Ideally, a community member clinician responding to a call would have some basic information about the person in crisis. Are they in treatment? Where? Have they been in treatment before? The more information the responder has, the better. Fortunately, there are solutions to this issue.

There are software programs, like Julota, that can provide law enforcement and community responders with this information. Julota offers essential information about individuals who are in crisis.

It shows if they’re in treatment, where they’re in treatment and other relevant information that might be important. All of this information is HIPAA, CFR-42, and CJIS compliant. Moreover, this information is stored in the cloud, so community responders can pull the info up on their smartphones or tablets while they’re on their way to a call.

Julota allows them to get vital information before interacting with the individual in crisis. For instance, this now enables community responders to call the individual’s treatment team or center to get more information that can be helpful before they engage with the individual in person.

Sometimes treatment providers can offer helpful information about what makes a person angry, or they can provide methods that have worked previously to get the individual to trust them. But, again, the data shows up quickly and easily, and it can be invaluable to law enforcement.

The community responders can then speak with this individual and try to get them back into treatment. Julota offers police officers and community responders vital information that can help de-escalate tense situations and prevent people from being arrested unnecessarily.   

In addition to diverting people away from the criminal justice system, having this type of information allows community-based response teams to learn more about the individual they’re about to encounter. Then, once they meet with this person, they can further engage with them and determine how they can help.

Perhaps they need help to obtain food stamps or finding a location for a food bank. Whatever they need, Julota can offer information to first responders that can help them connect with the individual in crisis, earn their trust, and then help them in many different ways.