Exeter, New Hampshire, and Pharr, Texas, police departments are making mental health training a priority by instituting changes and new policies to better handle mental-health related responses.
According to a report from the New Hampshire Union Leader, the Exeter Police Department has formed a partnership with Seacoast Mental Health Center (SMHC) to train police officers to better deal with people suffering from mental health issues.
The partnership is one of the first in the state to be formed through the One Mind Campaign, an initiative from the 30,000-member International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) to increase understanding between police officers and mental health sufferers.
According to the IACP website, One Mind Campaign “seeks to ensure successful interactions between law enforcement and people in crisis and/or with mental health issues or disorders.”
To join the campaign, law enforcement agencies must pledge to implement certain practices, which include partnering with local health organizations, developing new policies regarding law enforcement responses, and training and certifying officers in mental health first aid training and crisis response training courses.
In a news release, Exeter Police Chief Stephan Poulin lamented the frequency of mental health problems his officers encounter on the job, saying, “Sadly, it is an issue that our officers and dispatchers are more frequently being called upon to address in our community.”
Exeter police told the Union Leader that they responded to 107 mental health-related calls, including 44 suicide threats and attempts.
To address these concerns, Exeter police worked with SMHC to understand and implement the “Columbia Suicide Severity Rating Scale,” allowing officers at a scene to make proper assessments and communicate with clinicians.
The department has also issued a policy ensuring that officers receive mental health training. The Union Leader stated that 20% of the department completed 40 hours of intensive Crisis Intervention Training (CIT), which trains officers on how to interact with people suffering from mental disorders or who are mentally disabled. Training techniques involve de-escalation techniques and role-plays, enabling officers to handle crises and save lives more effectively.
The Pharr Police Department in Texas has also implemented similar policies to address mental health concerns, training 15 of their officers in mental health late last year. Using similar training techniques like role-plays and workshops, they will be better equipped to de-escalate a situation and assist mental health sufferers, according to a report by KRGV news.
Dennis Walker, director of emergency services at SMHC, told the Union Leader, “there is a growing number of forward-thinking police departments around the country who understand the importance of intervening in a mental health crisis in a way that promotes respect, wellness, and effective intervention. This tool in the hands of police and first responders will save lives.”
According to a CDC report, in June 2020, 40% of U.S. adults reported struggling with mental health, and nearly 11% of those who reported had considered suicide in the preceding 30 days, highlighting the importance of the issue.