Thursday, March 30, 2017
By Sam Tilford
One program in Shoreline is hoping to build relationships between the police department and the behavioral health community by providing training and one-on-one contact.
The Shoreline Police Department’s Response Awareness, De-escalation and Referral program, or RADAR, trains deputies to provide safe and effective responses when handling situations involving people with behavioral health problems.
This is in compliance with the Doug Ostling Act, which established requirements for CIT training statewide. Ostling, a mentally ill man, was shot and killed in his home by Bainbridge Island police officers in 2010. Responding officers did not know Ostling had severe mental illness when responding to his call for assistance, despite the fact that he had recent, previous contacts with Bainbridge police.
“Had officers known more about his BHI, or strategies that might have helped him in a crisis situation, deadly force would have been a less likely option,” RADAR Program Coordinator Kimberly Hendrickson said.
Encounters between officers and individuals with BHI occur on a regular basis. In 2015, Shoreline PD responded to over 500 incidences, according to an annual Shoreline police report.
In a survey conducted by Shoreline PD, 86 percent of Shoreline deputies surveyed reported having either daily or frequent contact with people with BHI, and 75 percent of responding deputies were not satisfied with the options available to them for handling these kinds of calls.
“Police within Shoreline really just felt unprepared from an information standpoint,” Hendrickson said. “Behavioral health calls are very complex, RADAR really speaks to having more tools and information before responding to calls.”
The RADAR response plan lets deputies know, prior to arrival at a scene, that they will be encountering an individual with a behavioral issue. Deputies and a program navigator, who is professionally trained in mental health, work together with community members before crisis events occur. This allows deputies to gather de-escalation information, such as what calms down specific BHI community members.
For example, in a meeting with one BHI community member, RADAR representatives found that the individual loves sports and the best way to calm them down is to talk sports with them.
“Our goal is to really recognize that these people are in crisis and that their mental health is compromised,” Deputy Tim Meyers said. “We want to get them help, which usually means sourcing them into the right programs, and we want to do so without the use of force.”
People with a behavioral issue often have difficulty complying with instructions. As a result, many encounters between law enforcement officers and individuals with a behavioral issue involve force being applied or other kinds of physical contact, including being arrested or sent to jail.
The Washington Post estimates that 240 people with behavioral issues were shot and killed by police nationally in 2016. This represents around one in four of all fatal police shootings.
Between 2014 and 2015, there were 27 use of force incidents reported by Shoreline deputies. Around one-quarter of these incidents involved people with behavioral issues, according to data from the RADAR research team. This is a number Shoreline PD believes they can reduce going forward.
“At the heart of this program is the commitment to build stronger relationships with people in the community who are affected by BHI,” Hendrickson said. “Shoreline residents affected by BHI read stories in the news about police incidences that go badly. We want to ensure incidents like this never happen.”
|Shoreline PD hopes to see the RADAR program in police departments statewide. Here Deputies Tim Meyers and Ben Emmons speak at a Council of Neighborhoods meeting in January. Photo credit: Kimberly Hendrickson|
The other aspect of this is individuals with behavioral issues being taken to jail rather than medical facilities. Meyers gave a recent example of a man with behavioral issues who accidently stopped a commuter train near Richmond Beach by wandering onto the tracks.
“In the old system we would have booked that person for trespassing,” Meyers said. “Now that we have this RADAR program we recognize he did not have criminal intent. His intent was not to mess up the train schedule, his intent was that he likes trains and wanted to be there.
Meyers suggests that rather than taking him to jail the better option is to take him to a medical facility to get him the help he needs.
“If the battery in your car goes dead and you go to a tire shop you haven’t really fixed anything,” Meyers said. “We need to get you to the right spot to fix whatever circumstance got you there.”
Public stigma impacts how people with behavioral issues are treated in their communities. Hendrickson says part of the reason individuals with behavioral issues have not received proper treatment over the years is because of lasting stigmas. This includes withholding help, avoiding contact, forced treatment, and segregated institutions.
“There is a stigma that these are crazy people who hear voices and are going to go out and kill people and that is just not true,” RADAR navigator Susie Kroll said. “Your family, your friends, your neighbors, the people you work with can all suffer from some sort of behavioral health issue.”
Kroll, who is also a Behavioral Health Clinic Manager hopes the program will help erase stigmas surrounding BHI.
“People with behavioral health issues and mental health diagnoses have long been the subject of stereotypes,” Kroll said. “By building relationships within our communities, providing information and showing we are here to help, we believe we can really make a lasting impact.”
The RADAR program was funded through King County’s Mental Illness and Drug Dependency tax fund. Hendrickson says the it is self sustainable, and plans to run for many more years.
The program went into effect January 1 and will be evaluated by researchers at George Mason University and the Police Foundation in 2018. They will analyze data to determine if there is a decrease in use of force between police and individuals with behavioral issues and if individuals with behavioral issues are calling in less frequently.
For more information on the RADAR program, including how to get someone with a behavioral health issue into the system, contact Kimberly Hendrickson.
RADAR representatives still recommend calling 911 when involved in a situation with someone with a behavioral health issue.