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Responding to People in Crisis

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I think it is important to discuss and spread awareness of some issues that most people prefer to ignore and not think about until it is too late – mental health crisis. With lockdowns and Covid, people have been put in unusually stressful conditions, and not everyone reacts and responds the same way.

As a police first line supervisor, one type of incident that has exploded in frequency is mental/suicidal incidents. Resources to address these issues, specifically people in crisis, can be extremely rare. Traditionally police are called, but, police are not always the best suited to handle this type of crisis since they primarily focus on criminal matters and suicide isn’t illegal in most areas. Emergency Medical Services (EMS) in many areas strictly deal in blood and guts. Mental health crisis workers are the solution to work in conjunction with law enforcement (as security) and EMS (for medical needs).

As someone who supervises police officers, every incident evolving someone in crisis is a huge concern. If we can determine no one other than the subject is in potential danger, our immediate response in person to the subject can be limited to a phone call. This might seem callous or unhelpful but there are factors at play which put more than the subject at risk.

If the subject is suicidal, introducing armed personnel into the mix might not be a good solution. Most officers are not trained in mental health evaluation/treatment. Deescalation is a current buzzword but may not work with someone suffering with extremely clouded judgement.

If the subject wants to end their life but does not want to do it, pointing guns or shooting at responding officers might instigate the officers to use deadly force against the subject. This puts the subject, the officers, and the entire neighborhood at risk of death or serious bodily injury. If shots are fired in either direction, what are the backstops? Residential houses? This is not a situation I want my officers to respond to in person. I want us to save lives, not end them.

Determine what resources you have locally or on the state level. Where I live there is a hotline to use as someone in crisis or as someone concerned about another in crisis. This hotline acts as a dispatch center to provide the closest and fastest care possible to those who need it. 911 might not be the best solution, not all police and EMS are aware of what mental health resources are available.

Most importantly, know what resources are available before you need them. A crisis is not the time to formulate a plan.

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