Boston, New York, Minneapolis, Denver, and Los Angeles are just a handful of cities in the United States sending teams or co-response teams of police officers and social workers to respond to incidents involving individuals suffering from mental health illness, reports The Economist magazine.
Many individuals who come into contact with the criminal justice system suffer from undiagnosed mental illness. It is not until they receive their medical examination when they are booked in county jails that mental health professionals are able to assess them and start them on medications to manage the worst of their symptoms.
Those who know they suffer from mental illness may have difficulty medicating themselves, forgetting or skipping their meds, or not being able to afford the medication. How many people experience mental health problems during the criminal justice process is difficult, if not impossible, to quantify. Even though the U.S. Justice Department collects statistics on individuals with mental health problems in the criminal justice system, they rely on self-reported data from local police departments to complete their own assessments. Sharing the information with the U.S. Justice Department is voluntary, so the numbers available do not accurately portray the magnitude of the problem.
New Approach to a Difficult Problem
Studies show that as many as two in four of fatal police shootings nationwide involve a victim suffering from severe psychiatric problems. Most police officers are not trained to deal with mentally ill people. Many more are not advised that they are responding to a scene with a person with severe psychiatric problems. The result is often a fatal misunderstanding that perhaps could have been better resolved with the assistance of a mental health professional.
Police departments are facing severe budget shortfalls. Programs such as the co-response teams are expensive. Funding, when available, is patched together from multiple sources, including federal, state, and local funding and grants from private organizations. Before the program can even be implemented in a community, the social worker must be trained about law enforcement duties, policies, and protection, and the police officers need to be trained about mental health illness and how to respond to individuals experiencing a mental health crisis.
Funding made available to local Police Departments to implement co-response teams, are used to pay for the additional personnel of a social worker, to train social workers about law enforcement, and to train police officers about mental health illnesses and how to respond to individuals experiencing a scary but not life-threatening mental health crisis. Continue reading