Law Enforcement Embraces Mental Health
It’s 11 at night, and a woman alone in her home has another severe anxiety attack. She phones the police, as she often does when she has these attacks. Usually, she would be given a ride to the hospital, where they’d treat her to make sure she is in good physical health.
But with the rise of co-responder programs across the nation, a new pathway for her care emerges. Certain communities have begun to implement programs where paired teams of police officers and mental health professionals respond to calls together. For this woman, a co-responder team can drive to her home without sirens or flashing lights to help minimize her anxiety. They could approach the woman and engage in simple activities or simply talk until she calms down. The woman might then be able to divulge her feelings to the responders, who can in turn share tips and resources for when anxiety overcomes her again. This teaches her how to be more self-sufficient and rely less on 9-1-1.
This isn’t the only application of co-responder programs, though. A significant subset of people phone 9-1-1 for the same recurring problems that stem from mental health issues, and often because they haven’t received the help they need. Additionally, a new philosophy is changing our understanding of what many crime and police calls are: the result of mental health issues and a lack of support.
This unique and exciting combination of resources and expertise is designed to target the recurring patterns we’ve seen over the years and change the status quo. Is this type of co-responder program right for your community? We’ve put together a list of factors to consider.
- Do you believe mental health is a critical factor to address?
If we have a crisis, we call 9-1-1. That’s what we’ve been taught our entire lives. Whether someone is intoxicated or suffers ongoing domestic violence or just can’t tolerate their current distress, they call 9-1-1. The underlying similarity between many of these 9-1-1 calls is that the real crux of the crisis is about mental health.
Studies estimate that 14.5% of men and 31% of women in jails have a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, major depression, or bipolar disorder, compared to 5% of the general population.
Using mental health providers, co-responding teams can help address such problems while teaching and empowering callers with better ways to seek help. Instead of simply throwing people in jail, helping them make different choices can lead to better outcomes.
- Do you want to maximize the benefits of having mental health professionals work with law enforcement officers?
A mental health professional (MHP) is equipped with training and knowledge that law enforcement likely does not have, and vice versa. In situations where a police officer may not be trained in the best way to approach someone (such as a person having an anxiety attack), an MHP employs best practices. MHPs also have the bonus of not being officers, which can help citizens feel more at ease. On the other hand, cops can help MHPs stay within specific legal boundaries, such as when it is or isn’t OK to enter someone’s home without their consent.
“This is the perfect marriage of well-trained, well-educated, really conscientious deputies and officers doing work in partnership with an MHP who has the license and training to be able to mesh the cultures and respond in our fields of expertise,” Susie Kroll, a mental health professional who co-responds with law enforcement in Redmond, Wash., said in an interview with the Redmond Reporter.
This provides better support for law enforcement staff in the part of their job that tackles mental health. The results have been positive so far.
In Colorado, the Mental Health Center of Denver has placed mental health clinicians in patrolling squad cars. “These clinicians are worth their weight in gold,” Denver police Lt. Ian Culverhouse, who often takes clinicians with him when he responds to 9-1-1 calls, said in an interview with the Denver Post.
- Do you want to save your town money?
Co-responder programs are proving to be a huge cost saver to local governments. From 2014 to 2016, mental health clinicians in Denver helped more than 1,100 individuals, with about 44% receiving follow-up care. State officials estimated the program in Boulder County costs about $600,000 but saves the community about $3 million annually by reducing incarcerations.
By pairing MHPs with law enforcement officers to optimize where people go to get help, these programs help reduce transports, cautionary ER admissions, and calls from high utilizers. All these things end up saving the community and taxpayers a considerable chunk of money.
In Minneapolis, for example, co-responders contacted 985 people undergoing emergency mental-health issues—843 adults and 142 children—between fall 2017 and fall 2018. After talking to social workers and officers, more than 260 people calmed down in their homes or workplaces and declined trips to the hospital. This saves time and resources for the community.
- Do you want to lower nonurgent 9-1-1 calls?
Over time successful co-responder programs reduce calls altogether, especially behavioral health-related calls. Why? It’s easier to have more effective referrals with MHPs present.
Co-responders can also follow up with callers after a crisis. Instead of waiting for people to call 9-1-1, co-responding teams start to play a preventative role in crises that might arise in the future.
The relationship between the community’s mental health services and emergency resources becomes offensive instead of defensive.
- Do you want to help people in your community to receive the proper help they need?
Co-responders can bridge the gaps between law enforcement, hospitals, and mental health services. This helps citizens navigate a fragmented system for societal support.
Co-responders try to learn as much about the problem as they can to put the caller in community services that keep it from happening again. Often a crisis might be caused by unaddressed medical issues. A co-responder team might be able to help the caller obtain insurance or primary care, so the chronic conditions won’t flare up again or cause other issues.
Even crime can be stemmed by getting people proper help. Low-level theft might be about someone not having basic needs met, so a co-responder team can try to meet those needs to stop the theft from continuing instead of just throwing someone in jail.
Implementing such programs has historically been difficult because of technological barriers. How can MHPs, police officers, and hospitals work together and keep track of community services when there is so much out there?
New software developed in recent years can provide a solution. Julota, for example, is a new software that can help co-responder programs assist their communities successfully. With HIPAA-, CFR 42 Part 2 (behavioral health, substance abuse)-, and CJIS (jail facilities, law enforcement)-compliance, Julota has none of the interoperability problems you face with other software.
Most important, Julota has allowed community organizations to share critical information across the board in a centralized place and can electronically link law enforcement to community services. This means law enforcement can also send electronic referrals for its callers to specialized and charitable organizations like behavioral health clinics, food banks, home assistance, substance abuse centers, and more. This has made co-responder programs more effective and easier to implement.
With benefits that save law enforcement so much hassle and help your community members get the help they need, why wouldn’t you want a co-responder program in your community?
Written by Kevin Amell