Here is a great article that talks about training for police to better respond to psychiatric emergencies. I love the idea. Where I have a problem is that there is funding for this training at at time when mental health services are being cut right and left. It is great to have better educated police dealing with psychiatric patients in distress, but, if you read this article, the focus is on trying to keep psych patients out of jail. To do this, there have to be options available for treatment; with the current cuts that may not be an option.
Please read this article and leave me a comment about your thoughts on this topic, won’t you? Even though this article is about New London, CT; I feel this information is applicable to the entire country because we are all dealing with cutbacks and changes in our state and local areas because of the budget shortfalls. CIT teams are remarkable and they certainly are worth having, but what do you do with the patient when all the beds are shut down?
Publication: The Day
Early one Friday night last November, Renee Beaulieu had a family emergency.
Her stepdaughter, nearly 50 years old and a longtime alcoholic with bipolar disorder, was screaming at Beaulieu and her husband. A family discussion about entering treatment had turned into an argument and then into a one-way outburst of rage.
Beaulieu, who had anticipated the potential for conflict when her stepdaughter had come asking for help, remembered what a hot-line counselor had told her: She could always call 911.
At first put off by the idea, Beaulieu learned from the counselor that New London’s police department was trained to respond to such calls. She dialed, said she needed help with crisis intervention, and 10 minutes later two cruisers pulled up, minus the lights and sirens but accompanied by a social worker.
“It was like, a traveling social worker? Social workers make house calls?” Beaulieu said during a phone interview last week.
New London was the first police department in the state to employ a Crisis Intervention Team, or CIT, to help officers respond to calls involving people with mental illness. The city last year received about 500 calls for response to people in psychiatric crisis, according to Deputy Police Chief Marshall Segar.
Beaulieu credits city police for their handling of the incident, in which her stepdaughter, who was sober at the time, calmed down and agreed to enter treatment.
Segar said about 20 officers in New London have been trained in the CIT program, as well as a number of dispatchers. One result of the de-institutionalization of people with mental illness, Segar said, is that “law enforcement has now become the front line in dealing with people in crisis.”
First developed in Memphis, Tenn., in 1988, the CIT program trains police in the unique techniques involved in such calls. Training results in fewer injuries to officers and the people in crisis, less need for lethal force, a decrease in involuntary commitments and a reduction in officers’ time off patrol, according to the Connecticut Alliance to Benefit Law Enforcement (CABLE).
One of the program’s main goals is to prevent the unnecessary arrest and incarceration of people who belong somewhere other than prison.
“In general, there just seems to be way too many persons with mental illness taking up extra prison beds in our state,” said Mike Lawlor, a former state representative who is now the undersecretary for criminal justice policy and planning at the state Office of Policy and Management.
Lawlor said one of the reasons is that prevailing theory holds that the only way to get treatment for some people is to have them arrested and sent to jail. While that might be partly true, he said, it is expensive – about $100,00 per year per inmate, Lawlor said – and ineffective.
Crisis intervention offers a different approach.
“Part of the solution to the problem is to get police and prosecutors to make different decisions, but also a very big part of it is to make sure there are other options – not just in theory but in practice,” said Lawlor, who called New London a pioneer.
“There are ways to handle these folks without tying up a prison bed. It requires us to make sure the options are there and to make sure the criminal justice system is ready to make more targeted decisions regarding who gets arrested and prosecuted.”
Training in New London
About 30 police departments have CIT policies and another 30 are creating them, according to CABLE. The program is mainly funded by the state and overseen by the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.
Former New London police Capt. Kenneth Edwards oversees the statewide training, which occurs up to five times a year. A five-day, 40-hour training program will take place at Mitchell College in June.
Training includes classroom work, role playing and “experiential learning.”
Officers listen to voices on an MP3 player, an exercise intended to mimic what a person in the midst of a psychotic episode may be hearing. The officers are given jobs to do, routine tasks like going to a store or processing a transaction at a bank.
“The officers really feel it’s quite an eye-opener in terms of understanding that perhaps when a person isn’t responding to you right away, it may not be because they’re being defiant,” said Louise Pyers, the executive director and founder of CABLE. “It may be because they’re just not hearing you.”
In 2002, New London was sued by the daughter of a man who had died five years earlier after a scuffle with police.
Police confronted Edward J. Nolan, a schizophrenic who had been in and out of the former Norwich Hospital, after receiving a report that he had been acting strangely. Nolan faced off with five New London officers in a boxing stance; he began yelling, kicking and punching at them and eventually lunged for an officer’s gun.
Nolan died of a heart attack. Several officers suffered minor injuries.
A nine-member federal jury awarded $100,000 to his daughter, according to a story in The Day in 2002, after finding that the officers violated Nolan’s civil rights and used excessive force.
Police maintained they did nothing wrong in subduing Nolan, saying he died because he had a weak heart and had stopped taking medication for his schizophrenia, which brought on a psychotic rage.
Segar, the deputy police chief, said New London’s decision to implement the CIT program was “policy-based” and not based on specific incidents.
More than 800 police officers statewide have gone through the training since the mental health agency took over after an initial federal grant.
A survey of four of the “biggest” departments, which included New London, found that 1,500 people were diverted into mental health services rather than the prison system in one year, according to Pyers.
Still, 18 percent to 20 percent of the state’s 17,600 prisoners have “significant mental health needs,” according to the state Department of Correction. Those range from a need for medication to remain stable to more serious mental health issues, said spokesman Brian Garnett.
That figure is up from 13 percent to 15 percent a decade ago.
“It’s probably a couple of things,” Garnett said. “One is more people with those needs are coming in and probably some of it is better assessment methods than we’ve used in the past.”
Social workers in cruisers
An officer’s response to a call involving a person with mental illness can be somewhat antithetical to techniques they have learned.
“It is different from the training they get in the academy, where they’re trained to have a command presence,” Pyers said. “A person with mental illness sees that, and they become frightened, much more frightened, and that’s where problems happen.”
Officers will often use a softer voice, arrive quietly on scene without lights and sirens and use different de-escalation tactics than they would with the general public.
“Nine times out of 10, a police officer, just by virtue of what they’re wearing – the uniform, the gun, the radio, all of that – can instill fear in a person with mental illness,” Pyers said. “And when the fear factor rises, their ability to comply with commands (is impaired) … especially if they think (police are) going to take them away and lock them up and throw away the key.
“And as a result of that, sometimes a person might start either pushing back or resisting the officer’s advances in terms of getting them under control.”
Tabatha Maiorano and Jeff Watson, social workers from the Southeast Connecticut Mental Health Authority, are assigned to the New London, Norwich, Waterford and Groton City police departments.
Maiorano said they spend most of their time with New London and Norwich departments, spending four out of their five workdays out in the community in cruisers.
The social workers ride with officers on their shifts, checking in on people and responding to whatever calls the officer goes to. Maiorano rotates her schedule to include day, evening and weekend shifts.
“That kind of gives us a range of being able to be there during different or off times,” she said, “when facilities are closed or private places are closed and officers have trouble getting ahold of clinicians.”
Maiorano said referrals for mental health services have gone up as a result of the program, either from the social workers meeting new people at a scene or because officers…[read more]
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