mental illness

WALKER – Learning to recognize and handle people who have mental issues without resorting to the use of force is the goal of a program being launched by the Walker Police Department.

“The chief and I were invited to attend a symposium by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) to discuss mental health issues,” said Capt. John Sharp, public information and digital media officer. When people who have mental issues get into a confrontation with police, they go to jail, Sharp told the City Council at its Dec. 17 meeting.

“They don’t belong in jail,” Sharp said. “We need a place to take those who need treatment.”

The goal is to “de-escalate the situation, bring it down and make everything safe.”

“We are responding to calls – maybe half of our calls we respond to involve substance abuse issues, or disorders like mental issues,” Sharp said.

Chief David Addison added, “All we can do is have them go by Acadian (Ambulance) to Baton Rouge to evaluate them. Then they turn them loose; they’re not getting help.”

“Officers are called to a scene, use deadly force and they didn’t know,” that an individual had mental issues, Sharp said. “If we can avoid something like that, or the use of deadly force or any force, we’re better off.”

The IACP offers a One Mind Campaign for police departments and their officer to recognize and handle such calls, he said.

“Law enforcement partners with mental health care providers in the area to educate law enforcement officers to recognize people suffering from mental health crisis and getting them the correct help rather than knee jerk reaction to put them in jail.

"Police departments that have used the One Mind Campaign have seen a 40 percent reduction in the use of force – from the use of pepper spray or other less-than-lethal force," Sharp said.

“It’s important to learn this. If you deal with someone in a mental crisis, they shouldn’t be treated like criminals. We’re implementing a program to recognize these situations,” he said.

Sharp said the police chief will ask the City Council in January to add a reserve officer, Tom Jarlock. Jarlock is a program manager with the Office of Behavioral Health, under the state Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH).

“He will work for free, responding with officers to mental health issues and calls and get us trained,” Sharp said. “He’s going to help our officers recognize these problems where they exist and de-escalate the situation."

“Training is ongoing; having Mr. Jarlock as a crisis intervention team will make a big difference,” Sharp said.

The goal is to have 100 percent of the department as well as dispatchers trained in this procedure within 24 months, he said.

The training “will not cost us anything, just some additional training. You can’t put a price on this,” Sharp said. The policy the Police Department will develop will be adopted from a policy model from the IACP, he added.

The IACP, founded in 1893 is a non-profit group with 30,000 members from 150 countries working to improve police practices. The One Mind Campaign seeks to ensure successful interactions between police officers and persons affected by mental illness, according to the IACP website.

“The initiative focuses on united local communities, public safety organizations, and mental health organizations so that the three become ‘of one mind,’ ’’ the website says.

To join the campaign, law enforcement agencies must pledge to implement four practices over a 12- to 36-month period

These practices include:

--Establishing a clearly defined and sustainable partnership with a community mental health organization.

--Developing a model policy to implement police response to persons affected by mental illness.

--Training and certifying sworn officers and selected non-sworn staff in mental health first aid training or other equivalent mental health awareness course.

--Providing crisis intervention team training.

A total of 453 agencies have joined the campaign, including 13 in Louisiana, according to the IACP.

City Councilman David Clark asked if part of the policy will be the connect people with mental health services.

“We have the immediacy of the response,” Sharp said.

 “A lot of people would want to advocate,” for such a program and put together a network of services for people, Clark said.

Sharp also mentioned expanding a database that includes the names and addresses of people with mental issues or behavioral issues, so officers will be prepared if they answer a call at such a residence.

In response to Councilman Gary Griffin’s concern about the database, Sharp said the database is strictly voluntary by the family or caregiver of a person with mental health or behavioral issues.

“We have a database now. We have voluntary information, so if we get a call, it pops up someone there has a mental health issue and the officer knows before they get there,” Sharp said.

“Knowing in advance before we get there if a person in that household is suffering from bipolar, we know what to expect,” Sharp said. “We don’t just roll out and someone wants to fight and we have to put them in jail and never know it was not done out of anger.”

The department also is working with Richard Kramer, executive director of the Florida Parishes Human Services Authority, which serves a five-parish region, including Livingston Parish.

“They are working on opening a facility in St. Tammany Parish that can hold people having a mental health crisis,” Sharp said.

“In areas where the program is in use, they are saving a lot of money from the cost of putting people in jail who don’t need to be there,” he said.

 “This is important for our community and our department,” Sharp said. “It saves the city money and saves us man hours.”

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