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Amid calls for police reform, better training needed to handle mental health emergencies: Experts

Some departments use crisis intervention programs.

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Ivan Pereira
ABC News
June 27, 2020

Dr. Jennifer Skeem, a professor of psychology at the Goldman School of Public Policy at UC Berkeley, who has researched police mental health reforms, agreed and said this stems from the general stigma against mental illness in the country.

Although CIT training has shown some successes, Skeem said it should not be sole solution to improving mental health emergency responses.

“It’s been reduced to this idea that you give 40 hours of training to this team and they’re ready to answer mental health calls,” she told ABC News.

Skeem said police departments should come up with new tactics and strategies to address these problems. Most importantly, they should expand the use of programs that have been established in some precincts where psychology professionals are deployed to handle those emergency calls that involve mental health.

The NYPD has Co-Response Teams, which pair two officers with a city Department of Health & Mental Hygiene clinician to emergency calls that involve a person with mental health issues...

Skeem said researchers are currently studying the effectiveness of this program, but in general, having cooperation between trained mental health professionals and law enforcement is a step in the right direction.

“That will help build a bridge between the police, community and other agencies,” she said.

In the meantime, Skeem said it is vital that law enforcement agencies focus training on mental health problems and the use of effective de-escalation tactics to crack down on the stigma and avoid any use of force.

“A lot of these reforms or model programs have been developing already. I hope this creates the human, political and agency will to implement the strategies that are quite different,” she said.