The Annapolis Police Department has joined a nationwide movement, One Mind Campaign, working toward successful interaction between police and persons with mental illness.
With the number of police shootings and killing of civilians reaching nearly 1,000 in 2015, The Washington Post started a year-long study, gathering records of every fatal police shooting in the U.S. that year and found that most of these deaths involved 3 specific situations: people with weapons, people who ran when they were told to stop, or people who were suicidal or mentally troubled.
After careful analysis, The Post study showed that twenty-five percent of those killed fell into the category of mentally ill or suicidal. According to The Washington Post, “Officers fatally shot at least 243 people with mental health problems: 75 who were explicitly suicidal and 168 for whom police or family members confirmed a history of mental illness.” The Treatment Advocacy Center, a national nonprofit organization working to eliminate barriers to the timely and effective treatment of severe mental illness, indicates that persons with mental illness were sixteen times more likely to be killed by police than other civilians.
Nine out of ten of those killed and who had a mental health disorder were armed with weapons less lethal than firearms such as a blade or toy gun, which are rarely fatal for police officers. Almost a dozen of the mentally ill people killed were military veterans – many suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Most of the police officers who pulled the trigger had no training on how to deal with individuals experiencing mental health disorders. If the person has a weapon, repeatedly yelling for them to drop the weapon only increases the individual’s anxiety level. In most cases, no crime had been committed – the police were called by a family member or neighbor who was concerned about the individual’s erratic behavior.
One of the areas of change is CIT, or Crisis Intervention Team training, a 40-hour training session that educates police on mental health conditions and medication. It stresses verbal de-escalating techniques. The training teaches police to keep a safe distance, step back from a situation, and let the person in crisis vent and calm down. The course also introduces police to local mental health community resources.
The Anne Arundel County and Annapolis Police departments have toured local community behavioral health providers like Arundel Lodge, in an effort to familiarize their staff with locations to which they can refer individuals or even to which they themselves can reach out for information and guidance.
The International Association of Chiefs of Police’s One Mind Campaign has four strategies which are to be implemented in a 12 to 36 month time frame:
- Establish a clearly defined and sustainable relationship with at least one community mental health organization. This partnership will serve to institutionalize effective collaboration between the police agency and the mental health community.
- Develop and implement a written policy addressing law enforcement response to persons affected by mental illness. A written policy ensures that the department is taking a holistic approach and setting minimum standards for necessary training, officer response, and evaluation of outcomes.
- Demonstrate that 100 percent of sworn officers (and selected non-sworn staff, such as dispatchers) are trained and certified in Mental Health First Aid. Officers who have taken this eight-hour course are able to employ a variety of de-escalation and communication techniques to reduce the likelihood of an unfavorable outcome.
- Demonstrate that a minimum of 20 percent of all sworn officers (and selected non-sworn staff, such as dispatchers) are trained and certified in Crisis Intervention Team training. This comprehensive course uses a team approach, which connects officers with mental health professionals during a law enforcement response.
By committing to this campaign, the Annapolis Police Department is recognizing the need for greater skills for more effective interactions with people dealing with mental illness.