Scranton police officers must be better trained to handle citizens with mental illness, and cooperation between law enforcement and mental health care providers must be strengthened, according to the task force formed after a mentally ill Scranton woman was shot to death by police last year.
The committee released its final report to Mayor Chris Doherty on Friday, and the mayor pledged Sunday night to implement the committee’s recommendations.
“We have to improve, and we have to do things better,” Mr. Doherty said. “I want to break down the walls between the Police Department and the mental health community.”
Officials have said the mental health system “failed” Brenda Williams, a 52-year-old paranoid schizophrenic who was shot in her North Scranton apartment on May 28 after she approached police with an 8-inch kitchen knife.
An internal police report and an investigation by the district attorney’s office cleared the officers of any wrongdoing.
Mr. Doherty met with Ray Hayes, a chairman of the task force and the city’s former director of public safety, on Friday to discuss the report.
– Adopting and implementing a “crisis intervention team,” which the task force says would increase safety of all participants, reduce arrests for behavior primarily arising from mental illness, reduce costs and divert more individuals toward mental health treatment. Twenty percent of officers should receive specialized training in mental health crisis calls, and those officers should be designated to respond to such calls whenever possible. Dispatchers should also receive training.
– Establishing a protocol, including procedures to be followed by police officers. A wide range of inpatient and outpatient referral sources must be available to law enforcement, and all crisis officers should carry cards with contact information of mental health treatment providers, peer advocates and family advocates for their own reference and to distribute.
– Fostering cooperation between law enforcement and mental health care providers. “The program’s success depends on positive relationships and continuous cooperation between police and mental health service providers,” the report states.
– Making informal educational programs, information-sharing sessions and community involvement an integral component. Police officers should interact with mental health patients and family members to discuss issues such as police protocol, recovery plans and advocacy services. Members of the “crisis intervention team” should attend mental health community activities and neighborhood meetings and work the local media to educate the public.
– Appointing an advisory board, composed of major stakeholders, to oversee, analyze, recommend modifications and study future directions. The institution of the recommendations is “viewed as only the first step in an ongoing process. Once recommendations are implemented, the program must be continually assessed for effectiveness and monitored for any needed changes,” the report states.
– The report also addresses several other initiatives outside the scope of the task force’s charge: working closely with regional officials and stakeholders, particularly the Lackawanna County Criminal Justice Advisory Board to explore the possibility of expanding the program to a larger region; linking the “crisis intervention team” with the Lackawanna County specialty courts, such as a mental health court; and examining the feasibility of instituting mobile crisis units for urgent care.
Mr. Doherty said one of the first actions stemming from the report will be the training of police officers. Eight officers will attend a weeklong training in Johnstown next month, where they will learn about suicide and crisis prevention, intervention and de-escalation strategies, psychotropic medications, legal and civil rights, cultural diversity, juvenile issues and veteran’s issues.
Cambria and Somerset counties were one of the first areas of the state to establish a “crisis intervention team,” according to the report. After the officers return to Scranton, they will train additional police officers.
Efforts to reach Police union President Sgt. Bob Martin were unsuccessful Sunday night.
Mr. Doherty said the panel did a “phenomenal” job.
“We’re here to learn,” he said.
Contact the writer: firstname.lastname@example.org
Related articles by Zemanta
- Mentally Ill Old Woman Tasered for Refusing to Move (psychcentral.com)
- Unique study asks those with mental illness about experiences with police (newswire.ca)
- Mentally ill need treatment: police chief (cbc.ca)