Police as Mental Health Workers

Once upon a time, our nation housed mentally ill people in large numbers — many of whom were not a danger to themselves of other people. The solution was to de-institutionalize many of them and put in place community mental health treatment centers. At the time, it was met with applause from many.

In the early 70s it worked pretty well, police partnered with the mental health workers, the courts were supervising those former inmates who were not taking their meds, and outreach workers were available to help with their employment and housings issues.

And then it stopped — funding diminished and all but stopped.

The jails became the residence of many who suffered from a mental illness (some call our jails our “new asylums*) and police became their outreach workers to deal with homelessness, addictions, panhandling and petty street crime.

Click HERE for a history of how we got to where we find ourselves today.

While police chiefs and sheriffs have tried to find mental health services for those in their jails, their officers continue to run across and get called to incidents involving the mentally ill.

I don’t know if we will ever fix this problem, but we do owe it to our nation’s police officers to make sure they have the training and equipment to properly respond to persons in a mental health crisis.

Instead of training a special unit or special officers with these skills, the fact of the matter today is that ALL police need to be competent in responding to these crises without having to resort to using deadly force because they felt threatened by persons exhibiting behaviors they considered abnormal and even dangerous.