Amid calls for police reform, better training needed to handle mental health – Health News Today

It’s a scenario that you’ve likely heard about from time to time.

Police are sent to respond to a call of a mental health emergency and in some cases, there are tragic results.

While some departments have implemented protocols to address these situations, sending in teams of experienced officers with special training, using police in these scenarios been called into question amid the larger conversation about law enforcement reform surrounding George Floyd’s death.

Some mental health experts warn that sending officers to calls involving severe suicidal thoughts or a person experiencing a violent psychological episode is not always the best solution.

Although officers are trained to handle tense situations, foiling a robbery or assault is not the same as someone who is in deep mental distress, according to Dr. Adwoa Akhu, a clinical psychologist and an adjunct professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

“It can be terrifying and depending on how the police person shows up, it could escalate things or it can comfort it. It depends on how police officers present themselves,” she told ABC News.

A report issued this month by The Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law found of the nearly 1,000 people shot by police officers in 2018, a quarter had a mental illness.

Akhu and other experts say some police departments are making progress with new training and specialized teams that are deployed to mental health emergencies, but there is still a way to go.

Ajima Olaghere, an assistant professor of criminal justice at Temple University, said a major roadblock for effective responses to mental health emergencies is the fact that there is no uniform policy across the nearly 18,000 police departments across the country.

“We can safely assume that there is a lot of variation in how police academies and police departments may train officers to respond to individuals in crisis,” she said in an email to ABC News. “Across this variation, there are differences in how crisis intervention training may be prioritized and institutionalized as an aspect of police services.”

Olaghere said that there has been some progress over the last couple of decades as some major police departments have been enacting reforms to better prepare their officers and other first responders to mental health emergencies.

In 1988, the Memphis Police Department unveiled a model known as the Crisis Intervention Team. Under CIT training, select officers receive a 40-hour preparation from mental health workers on how to handle persons with mental illness, dispatch operators are given training on how to spot an emergency call involving a…

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