RADAR: Shoreline Police addressing issues of dealing with people with mental illness

Monday, September 26, 2016

Shoreline Police and Community members agree: more information needed to better address individuals with mental/behavioral health issues 

Police throughout the country are re-thinking their approach to people with mental health issues and cognitive disorders, especially when they are responding to individuals in crisis.

As part of its new Response Awareness, De-Escalation, and Referral (RADAR) Initiative, the City of Shoreline, along with researchers at George Mason University and the Police Foundation, recently surveyed both Shoreline Police Officers and parents and caregivers of people who have mental health or behavioral issues.

Both the police officers and the community members agreed that police needed more information to better respond to individuals in crisis.

In a June 2016 survey of Shoreline officers, 75% said the options they have when responding to calls relating to people with behavioral health issues are unsatisfactory.

Ninety percent reported either feeling fear themselves or causing fear in individuals who they are responding to in crisis.

Officers who report using force at least once on an individual in crisis wish they had more knowledge about mental illness and cognitive disabilities in general and specific information about the individual before responding to a call. All of the officers agreed that first responders have a duty to help individuals with mental and/or behavioral health issues access resources and information.

The City, working with the Eastside chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is in the process of surveying NAMI members / community members who are parents or caregivers of people with behavioral health issues.

According to preliminary results, these respondents wish that officers had more information when responding to calls.

While most respondents who had called for police assistance to respond to a cognitive, behavioral, or mental health crisis ranked the encounter as either “excellent” or “good”, they noted multiple ways that the response could have been better.

Police having specific information about the person in crisis, police having more crisis response training, and police working more collaboratively with parents and caregivers were all ways that could have improved the situation.

Respondents overwhelmingly supported new efforts to handle these situations, with 95-99% ranking crisis training, collaboration around response planning, and partnering first responders with mental health professionals as “very important.” Final results of this survey will be released in late 2016.

Under RADAR, the Shoreline Police Department will work proactively with city residents to plan for situations involving individuals with mental or behavioral health issues in crisis.

Shoreline officers will collaborate with a mental health professional to connect individuals to services and treatment.

“These survey results show that the need for a new approach is shared by both Shoreline officers and residents,” says Kim Hendrickson, RADAR’s Project Coordinator. “When it comes to safely and effectively addressing mental health challenges, there is no police-community divide.”

RADAR is a three-year program funded by the Smart Policing Initiative of the Bureau of Justice Assistance, U.S. Department of Justice, and King County’s Mental Health and Chemical Dependency fund. For more information on the recent surveys, contact lead researcher and George Mason University Assistant Professor Charlotte Gill. For more information about RADAR, visit the project website.


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