Monday, June 29, 2020

Myth No. 5 The police can effectively help with mental health crises.

Could addressing performance appraisal with community input, and departmental funding review and allocation play a role in changing the paradigm?
“Unless you can make people perfect and have no mental health issues, I think it’s inevitable police officers are going to be on the front line,” a Connecticut Police Academy trainer recently told the Connecticut Mirror. In New York City, the number of 911 calls reporting “emotionally disturbed persons” almost doubled over the past decade, to nearly 180,000 a year. Across the United States, up to 10 percent of all police interactions with the public involve people with serious mental illnesses, according to a study in the journal Psychiatric Services. Cities have poured millions of dollars into the Memphis Model, which directs specially trained officers on “crisis intervention teams” to respond to such situations. This month, New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) signed legislation requiring, among other things, that police provide for the “mental health needs of those under arrest or in custody.”

Police are ill-equipped to play this role. Between 25 and 50 percent of all people killed by police in the United States are having a mental health crisis, according to the Treatment Advocacy Center. And research on the effectiveness of specialized training for these calls is not encouraging. A 2014 Criminal Justice Policy Review meta-analysis showed no improvement in safety for officers or the public from the use of crisis intervention teams. A 2019 study by researchers at the University of California at San Francisco and San Quentin State Prison found that evidence to support the training was contradictory and that, in most cases, deploying the teams didn’t affect arrest and use-of-force rates. The only time we see improvements in the outcomes of these calls is when such teams are combined with increases in community-based mental health services.
Alex S. Vitale is professor of Sociology and Coordinator of the Policing and Social Justice Project at Brooklyn College and the author of “The End of Policing.”

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