Problematic Behavior or Activity
Around the United States, a number of recent studies illustrate the importance of developing policies and procedures to best navigate law enforcement encounters with persons in a mental health crisis. Specifically, encounters that escalate to a use of force, and at times, a deadly use of force. The Department of Justice (DOJ) notes that these types of encounters are complicated, as effective communication can be negatively affected by the individual’s mental illness. Additionally, the United States Appellate Courts have weighed in on the subject and have made recent rulings that boil down to the need for law enforcement to “slow down, take into consideration a person’s mental state, and attempt to de-escalate situations before ‘forcing’ an encounter.”
Impact on the Community
Multiple studies in the U.S. have been conducted regarding mental health related encounters and deadly force. Since 2000, the Maine Attorney General’s Office found that forty-two percent of deadly force encounters included a mental health issue. In New Hampshire, four out of five individuals shot and killed by police in 2011 had mental health issues. This trend was also found in studies done in Syracuse (NY), Santa Clara County (CA), and Albuquerque (NM). In Oregon, the impact to the community can be illustrated by multiple incidents from around the state. The legal outcomes of these incidents were determined based on a lack of de-escalation tactics and whether or not a person’s disability was taken into account prior to a use of force.
From January 2016 to February 2017, the Oregon Association of Chiefs of Police and the Oregon State Sheriffs Association formed a Task Force to develop a statewide policy framework that can be scaled for use by a 2-person, 20-person, or 600-person law enforcement agency. According to the Task Force’s executive summary, “the goal of this task force was to assist law enforcement leaders to navigate these difficult topics, make good sound policy and response decisions for their communities, and to continue to engage their communities in conversation around police encounters involving persons in a mental health or behavioral crisis.” To this end, the Task Force recommended:
- A common understanding amongst Oregon law enforcement in policy/protocol terminology
- Communities and Law Enforcement agencies should have alternatives to arrest and jail, including developing community partnerships and resources.
- Additional Psychiatric Crisis Centers should be created around Oregon, especially in areas where this type of service is limited.
These recommendations were incorporated into a policy framework made available to Oregon’s law enforcement agencies.
Additionally, the Task Force developed training recommendations for basic academy, in-service, and Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training. These recommendations include:
- Basic training should provide at least 25 hours of dedicated training regarding mental health issues and response scenarios.
- Of the 84 maintenance training hours required every three years for police officers, three hours of training on addressing interactions with persons in crisis should be mandatory.
- Oregon law enforcement leaders should support a standard for CIT training that includes curriculum elements defined by Oregon’s CIT Center Of Excellence (CITCOE).
These recommendations were proposed and approved by Oregon’s Board on Public Safety Standards and Training.
Based on Research
The task force reviewed a number of publications and resources (summarized here).
While the impact of the Task Force’s recommendations is not yet known, there are promising results associated with the implementation of some of the strategies encouraged by the Task Force. For example, so far in 2017 Marion County Sheriff’s Office’s Mobile Crisis Response Team has responded to 500 active mental health calls with only 19 resulting in custody arrests and two in uses of force.
- Responding to Mental Health Crisis Calls
- Police use of Force and People with Mental Illness
- Specialized Crisis Response for Persons with Mental Illness