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Increasingly, Cities Use Crisis Response Teams to Improve Police Interactions with the Mentally Ill

Police officers come into contact with millions of individuals with serious mental health problems each year. Many are arrested and end up in the jails and prisons that have become the nation's largest psychiatric care centers. But, unfortunately, many of the interactions between police and the mentally ill have a much more tragic ending. The Treatment Advocacy Center estimated in 2015 that people with untreated mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed during a police encounter than other civilians approached or stopped by law enforcement. A study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, using data covering 2009-2012, found that “one in five (21.7%) legal intervention deaths were directly related to issues with the victim’s mental health or substance-induced disruptive behaviors.” Meanwhile, surveys by the National Alliance on Mental Illness have found that people in a mental health crisis are more likely to encounter police than to get medical attention, resulting in two million people jailed every year.
NPR: Mental health-related calls accounted for 22% of cases in which on-duty police used lethal force and killed someone, according to data from 2009 to 2012 from 17 states where data was available.

The root of the problem is that we don't allocate enough resources to battling mental illness and today experts say that there are more than "27 million adults in the U.S. who are going untreated."

Unsurprisingly, some of these individuals will have an encounter with police at some point and in far too many cases it will have a tragic result. However, over the last decade, many cities have attempted to address the dangers inherent in such encounters by creating specialized Crisis Intervention Teams [CIT] for dealing with people experiencing mental health or substance abuse crises. The teams are comprised of specially trained police officers and mental health professionals. They work together to de-escalate encounters with the mentally ill, while having the requisite skills to handle the situation if it escalates. The teams can also help individuals obtain longer-term care.

CIT designs differ widely. Some cities simply provide additional training to police officers and others have created special units of mental health professions that respond to calls without police officers. The stated goals of all such units are pretty uniform, however; keep encounters from escalating, reduce the arrests of the mentally ill, and help individuals get the care they need outside the criminal justice system. To date, there hasn't been a great deal of research on the effectiveness of CITs, but some cities report remarkable progress in achieving their goals.

For instance, the CAHOOTS program in Eugene, OR is credited with reducing dangerous confrontations involving police officers, while saving money, and allowing police to concentrate on law enforcement. They designed a CIT that sends mental health workers, rather than police, to non-criminal emergency 911 calls. New York's new B-HEARD project is modeled after CAHOOTS and has resulted in more people accepting mental health care.

And there is an interesting success story from Hamilton, Canada. The city's CIT program has dramatically reduced the number of arrests of mentally ill individuals. Their CIT design pairs a police officer with a mental health worker to answer 911 calls involving people in mental health crises.

CBC.CA: "In the eight years since the program launched in Hamilton, there has been a marked reduction in taking people in mental health crisis into custody.
Before the mobile team, Hamilton police apprehended three out of every four people they were called to assist. Their latest figures show a 70 per cent reduction to fewer than one in five."

Research doesn't tell us yet what the most effective CIT program should look like, but at least we have acknowledged that police officers are often not the right first responders in many mental health crisis situations.

#news #research #criminaljustice

By: Don Lam & Curated Content

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