The Detroit Police Department (DPD) is working with mental health experts in the community to train officers on how to recognize and respond to mental health calls.
The department has partnered with the Detroit Wayne Integrated Health Network (DWIHN) since 2019 to focus on “crisis intervention training.”
Andrea Smith with the DWIHN explained: “It’s training centered around bringing behavioral health specialists together with law enforcement professionals. You’re focusing on verbal de-escalation in a hands-off approach to reduce the instances of officer-related violence,” Smith said.
As part of the training, officers spend 40 hours in class learning to recognize mental health illnesses such as anxiety, depression, suicide, eating disorders and hallucinations.
Smith says the training will boost officers’ empathy toward subjects.
“When you can understand your own trauma, you can approach individuals in the community differently. You’re looking at them from a trauma informed lens,” Smith said. “You’re not saying ‘What’s wrong with this person? You’re saying, ‘I know something has happened to this person. Let me change my approach.’”
The DPD has been overwhelmed by mental health crises recently, saying they average 20 calls a day.
To shoulder the burden, the department announced earlier in July that they decided to expand the DWIHN’s pilot program — called the Behavioral Health Co-Response Pilot Program — which has seen success in four precincts through its crisis intervention training and mental health services.
“This program is going to save lives, it is going to save people, it will help people that are in a crisis that don’t need to be put in the judicial or criminal justice system, but taken to the hospital and getting the services they need,” Chief James White said.
Currently, 98 officers are a part of the program. The “Crisis Intervention Team” is specially trained by mental health experts with the DWIHN. These same mental health experts also accompany officers on nonviolent calls and work in 9-1-1 dispatch to identify mental health crises and transfer calls to DWIHN crisis lines, Fox2 reported.
The partnership, according to the Detroit Free Press, also entails cooperation between health experts and police to help homeless residents find shelter and housing.
The partnership will cost the city $800,000 to cover the training and staffing expenses. However, officials argue it will help reduce incarceration and hospitalization costs.
Captain Tonya Leonard-Gilbert said under the new program, police can provide those with mental health problems the support they need.
“When we engage a member that has come in that has a mental health crisis, we’re able to provide services. We’re able to create a jail diversion or hospital diversion and actually get them to the providers that they need in hopes that they get the resources and support that they need so that they don’t have to call 9-1-1 in a crisis state,” she said.