Should officers have formalized training in mental health crisis response? Co-responder programs take a collaborative approach to addressing mental health crises that typically involve pairing law enforcement officers with mental health professionals or social workers. Recently, this definition has also been expanded to include co-response programs being run out of fire departments. The article examines the role of law enforcement in co-responder programs.
These programs aim to provide a more comprehensive and compassionate response to individuals experiencing a mental health crisis while also reducing the involvement of law enforcement in situations that are better handled by mental health professionals.
As mentioned, co-responder programs can take different forms. Still, they generally involve a mental health professional or social worker accompanying law enforcement officers to the scene of a mental health crisis. Together, they can assess the situation, provide de-escalation and support to the individual in crisis, and connect them with appropriate mental health services.
The Need for Co-Responder Programs
Co-responder programs have arisen out of the need for services to better address the current mental health crisis and its impact on the legal system. In the United States, law enforcement officers respond to an estimated 10% to 20% of all calls involving people with mental illnesses. In some areas, these calls have increased by as much as 47% over the past decade.
Additionally, approximately 15% of men and 30% of women in jails have a severe mental illness, and an estimated minimum of 25% of inmates in state prisons have a history of mental illness. Many law enforcement agencies lack the resources and training necessary to effectively respond to mental health crises, which has led to stress on the already overstretched legal system.
Co-responder programs, which involve pairing law enforcement officers with mental health professionals, have been shown to have several benefits in addressing mental health crises.
Some benefits linked to co-responder teams include improved outcomes for those in crisis, reduced arrests of those with mental health issues, decreased need for the use of force, increased community trust and communication, and improved officer well-being.
The Important Role of Law Enforcement in Co-Responder Programs
When responding to a mental health crisis, law enforcement officers in a co-responder program will often take the lead in ensuring the safety of the individual in crisis and the surrounding community. They may secure the scene and provide initial assessment and intervention, such as de-escalation techniques. Law enforcement officers or EMTs can also assist mental health professionals in connecting individuals to appropriate resources, such as mental health services, medical care, or housing.
The mental health professional’s role in a co-responder program is to provide expertise and support in addressing the mental health needs of individuals in crisis. They may conduct a more in-depth assessment of the individual’s mental health status and provide appropriate referrals or interventions based on their evaluation. Mental health professionals can also provide education and support to law enforcement officers to improve their ability to recognize and respond to mental health crises.
Co-responder programs can improve officer safety by providing mental health professionals to assist in potentially volatile situations. Mental health professionals can provide expertise in de-escalation techniques, reducing the risk of physical harm to officers. Co-responder programs also provide law enforcement officers with enhanced mental health crisis response training. Officers can learn from mental health professionals and gain new skills and knowledge that can be applied to future situations.
Challenges of Co-Responder Programs
While there are many benefits to co-responder programs, this is not to say they are without unique challenges.
Co-responder programs require significant resources, including funding, personnel, and training. These programs may not be feasible for all law enforcement agencies due to limited resources. Additionally, a limited number of mental health professionals may be available to participate in co-responder programs, making implementing them on a large scale challenging.
Co-responder programs require close communication and coordination between law enforcement officers and mental health professionals. Ensuring effective communication and coordination can be challenging, especially in high-stress situations. Law enforcement has its own set of requirements surrounding confidentiality, as do mental health professionals, and making these rules work together can be difficult. Luckily, for this challenge, a software platform called Julota currently exists that has already worked out all of the struggles of communication interoperability.
Julota is a flexible, compliant cloud-based platform that enables communities to implement critical initiatives like Mental Health and Law Enforcement Co-Responders, Crisis Intervention Teams, Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, and any other similar program. Julota bridges the gap between healthcare organizations that use different EHR systems as well as between mental health organizations and law enforcement organizations.
Mental Health Crisis Response Training for Law Enforcement Officers
Mental health crisis response training can help law enforcement officers better understand the complexities of mental health issues and how to respond to individuals experiencing a crisis with compassion and effectiveness. Officers need such training to have the necessary knowledge and skills to effectively de-escalate situations and connect individuals with appropriate resources, which can lead to adverse outcomes for both the individual in crisis and law enforcement.
Formalized mental health crisis response training can provide law enforcement officers with a deeper understanding of mental health issues and how to recognize and respond to individuals in crisis. This can include training on de-escalation techniques, communication strategies, and how to safely and respectfully transport individuals to appropriate mental health services.
Mental health crisis response training can also help reduce the stigma associated with mental illness and improve officer confidence in responding to mental health crises. By providing officers with the tools and knowledge they need to respond to these situations effectively, they can better serve their communities and ensure the safety and well-being of everyone involved.
In addition to the benefits for individuals in crisis and law enforcement officers, formalized mental health crisis response training can also help reduce the number of arrests and incarcerations of individuals with mental health issues. This can lead to cost savings for communities and reduce the burden on the criminal justice system.
Mental Health Training Available for Law Enforcement
● Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Training – CIT is a 40-hour training program that provides law enforcement officers with the skills and knowledge necessary to effectively respond to mental health crises. The program is offered by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and is available in many communities throughout the United States. More information on the program and its availability can be found on the NAMI website.
● Mental Health First Aid – Mental Health First Aid is an 8-hour training program that provides law enforcement officers with the skills to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental illness and provide appropriate support to individuals in crisis. The program is offered by the National Council for Behavioral Health and is available online or in-person. More information on the program and its availability can be found on the Mental Health First Aid website.
● International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) – The IACP offers a variety of resources and training programs for law enforcement officers in responding to mental health crises. Their resources include webinars, toolkits, and publications on topics such as mental health crisis response, suicide prevention, and officer wellness. More information on the IACP’s resources can be found on their website.
● Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) – PERF offers a variety of training programs and resources for law enforcement officers on responding to mental health crises, including de-escalation techniques and working with mental health professionals. More information on PERF’s resources can be found on their website.
Barriers Preventing a Greater Role of Law Enforcement in Co-Responder Programs
Mental health training for law enforcement certainly has its proven benefits. Still, there are some challenges that arise when trying to implement formalized training involving cost, time constraints, and resistance to change.
Training programs can be expensive, and some agencies may need more resources to provide this type of training to all officers. Law enforcement budgets are often limited and must be spent in the best possible place. This can mean mental health training is challenging to prioritize for some departments.
Additionally, officers already have a lot of responsibilities, and adding training to their existing workload can be challenging. Agencies may need to find ways to provide training while minimizing the impact on day-to-day operations. Furthermore, Mental health crisis response training is not a one-time event, and ongoing training may be necessary to keep officers up to date on the latest techniques and best practices. This can further impact an officer’s duty assignments and time and has to be planned for.
Some officers may resist the idea of mental health crisis response training, either because they don’t see the need for it or because they are concerned that it will detract from other aspects of their job. While many officers attending the training think differently afterward, this initial resistance can be challenging.
While challenges are associated with implementing formalized mental health crisis response training for law enforcement officers, the benefits can be significant. By providing officers with the knowledge and skills they need to respond effectively to mental health crises, agencies can help ensure the safety and well-being of officers and individuals in crisis. However, it is essential to consider the costs and logistics of such training carefully and to find ways to address any resistance to change.