As first responders, law enforcement professionals encounter individuals with mental illness or intellectual/developmental disabilities every day. Family members or members of the community are often involved as well. And while some individuals are in an emotional crisis, others exhibit behavior that may be or is perceived to be linked to criminal acts. Sometimes crisis can occur because the disability was not recognized quickly enough. Too often these encounters result in tragedy.
Budget cuts to our mental health system have significantly reduced the level of treatment resources available for individuals with mental health and intellectual/developmental disabilities. One result is that these individuals, rather than receiving treatment, are sometimes incarcerated, turning our jails and prisons into de facto mental health facilities.
It is important for responding officers to make every effort to prevent violent interactions using an array of tools and resources necessary for positive, successful outcomes. With sound policies and collaboration with the mental health community in place, these interactions with individuals dealing with mental health problems or intellectual/developmental disabilities can end without injury or death to either the officers or the individuals in emotional crisis.
Recognizing the impact these encounters have on policing, both as a public safety and as a public health concern, addressing these encounters should be a priority for law enforcement leadership. Law enforcement executives can influence and provide input to a broad range of public policy and resource allocation decisions relevant to community mental health systems and services. They must also develop successful strategies to reduce the possibility of injury or death occurring to the officers or the individuals in these encounters. Individuals with mental health issues or intellectual/developmental disabilities also deserve well-crafted police response policies.
When law enforcement executives assume leadership on this topic through policy and behavioral change, and community partnership, they positively impact organizational culture within their agencies and in the community at large. Partnering with mental health professionals, advocates, non-profit organizations, and family members, can lead to the development of successful strategies on the forefront of policing.
Please join IACP President Yousry “Yost” Zakhary and former Boston Police Department Commissioner Edward Davis on Monday, October 27 from 1pm-3pm in room W209ABC for an in-depth look at how suspect mental illness endangers officers and suspects alike, and strategies to ensure successful engagement during these calls.