The Onslow County Sheriff’s Department and Jacksonville Police Department, North Carolina, are among the first in the country to utilize a software system designed to aid first responders faced with a mental health-related emergency.
HealthIM, developed in Ontario, Canada, is a software suite designed to provide first responders with evidence-based, algorithmic methods to de-escalate and manage mental health crises to improve overall public safety.
According to JDNews, the North Carolina agencies spent the last two years testing the system and conducting due diligence before deploying it to active situations, and are hopeful it will lead to safer and more productive interactions between first responders and those in the middle of a mental health or substance abuse crisis.
Onslow County Assistant County Manager Sheri Slater said, “We have worked hard to develop a continuum of care in our community that affords the proper care to those experiencing a mental health or substance abuse crisis. HealthIM is a tool that supports our law enforcement officers so they can, in turn, protect the health and safety of the public.”
According to the HealthIM website, the three main benefits of the technology are to increase safety, improve crisis outcomes, and allow for effective oversight.
The system works by gathering information on interactions between sufferers of a mental health crisis and law enforcement officers so that officers will have personalized documentation they can rely on in future encounters with that individual.
It also guides first responders through an evidence-based risk assessment protocol to improve decision-making and communication, and offers de-escalation tips. After deciding on the appropriate course of action, the software directs the officer to resources such as mobile crisis teams, emergency shelters, hospitals, or county detention facilities in the case of an apprehension.
Data from encounters are then aggregated and anonymized, and can be accessed across agencies to help leaders and policy analysts assess response patterns and key performance metrics.
Authorities are hopeful the technology will lead to safer and more effective interactions with individuals suffering from mental health crises, and represents a higher level of care.
“We’ve had some great success with the Dix Crisis Center and we’ve wanted a continuum of care, the next step so to speak,” Jacksonville Director of Public Safety and Police Chief Mike Yaniero said. “This program prepares first responders for contact with persons known to have issues, and instead of leaving it to law enforcement to figure it out repeatedly, it helps guide the right type of care to these people in need.”
Grant funding was secured through the competitive U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Assistance’s Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Program.