Friday, September 28, 2012

Policing the mentally ill: Crisis intervention teams

Recently, Austin PD implemented a new policy related to responding to mentally ill suspects which the Austin Statesman described thusly:
In cases where a suspect is known to be mentally or emotionally disturbed, a minimum of four officers along with a sergeant will be sent to the scene, and at least one of them must be specially trained in handling such issues. [Chief Art] Acevedo said this change was spurred by several recent incidents involving violence by homeless suspects and other people with mental health issues. “We will greatly decrease the potential for use of deadly force,” Acevedo said.
So I was interested to see a couple of stories in the Houston Chronicle related to "crisis intervention teams" in Harris County and specialized training there for law enforcement handling calls related to the mentally ill:
The first bulleted story in particular gives more background on the cutting edge of best practices regarding police responses to mentally ill suspects:
Crisis intervention teams, tagged to respond to calls involving mentally disturbed subjects, reflect a new wave of law enforcement thinking pioneered by the Memphis, Tenn., Police Department in the 1980s. Such efforts have received renewed attention after a Houston police officer last week fatally shot a mentally ill double-amputee who threatened his partner with a pen. HPD's crisis intervention team, in place since 2008, was not at the scene

Sheriff Adrian Garcia launched the county's program last October as an alternative to jailing the mentally ill, an effort he said not only eases suffering but saves taxpayers money. About a fourth of the jail's current 8,900 prisoners require psychotropic medication.

"Each time we take a low-risk, nonviolent, mentally ill individual to treatment rather than jail, we increase the chances they will not re-offend and decrease the costs to our jail and the court system," Garcia said.
Since its inception, the county program has diverted 168 mentally ill subjects, individuals who previously would have been charged with crimes, to treatment facilities.

Henry's team, which has a cooperative agreement with the Houston Police Department's crisis team, has answered 1,581 calls since last October. In the most recent quarter, 728 of the individuals encountered suffered from post traumatic stress disorder, 257 from depression, 227 from bipolar disorder and 213 from schizophrenia.

"Our goal," Henry said, "is to protect both sides of the badge. We are trained and skilled to protect ourselves and trained and skilled to protect the 'consumer.' We don't rush into action. We understand what they are going through."

In addition to the 16 hours required of all police officers, deputies selected for the program receive 40 hours of special training through the HPD Academy, a program regarded by experts as one of the nation's best.
The deputies, accompanied by workers from Mental Health Mental Retardation of Harris County, arrive at crisis scenes in minimally marked squad cars after being dispatched by department operators or summoned by the first responding officers.
Austin's policy change is an improvement, but other jurisdictions are doing more to confront these difficult questions and so could APD.


Anonymous said...

There's definitely room for improvement in APD practices (which are not always the same as their procedures) for dealing with the mentally ill. Also important to note, though, is the fact that the local mental health authorities often inefficient and unhelpful when officers try to have MH suspects admitted to psych facilities. The process can take hours, and officers end up pulled of the streets, sitting in a waiting room while keeping an eye on a mentally ill person for a very long time, waiting to see if the person will be admitted to services. Then, once the person is seen, the mental health providers may or may not elect to provide services for the person, anyway. The officer, after a long wait, might end up having little other option than to bring the person to jail. All of this leads to situations where officers simply get frustrated with the process and make arrests instead of dealing with the inefficiency of Austin's mental health providers. Once the person is in the jail, they become someone else's problem. mental health admissions need to become more streamlined for officers.

Anonymous said...

Don't be too impressed with that article about the Harris County Sheriff's specialized training. There are still more murders committed by badged thugs in the Harris County Jail than all other county jails in the USA.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

10:03, I don't have any rose colored glasses on this, and the killing of the MH amputee shows there are still issues, but the deployment of MHMR workers along with crisis intervention teams is a lot closer to best practices even than Austin's recently improved policy. Many of the incidents you cite happened inside the jail, fwiw, not on the streets.

Christoffer Eldrich said...

Well, this is a good start. But I sure hope that they fix the system first so that they wouldn't have to do cover-ups on how rotten it is.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like the PD is trying to avoid situations like the one in Houston, and training in mental health issues will help. However, I agree with Anonymous that the process via MHMR does take a long time and often beds are not available at ASH, so the person may have to go to SASH or another State Hospital. This means the officers have to take them. Treatment is the better option than jail, but treatment in a State Hospital costs the taxpayers more money. I think ASH is $400 a night now. You can look up the costs since it is a State facility. I work in a related field