“A bad day for me is something that you guys can’t even imagine,” Jim Pace told two dozen officers at the St. Louis County and Municipal Police Academy. “My mind has no limits. On a bad day, I look around and think, ‘These people can’t help me.'” Pace, 48, had a his rare opportunity to talk to police about his schizophrenia without sirens, lights, yelling, fear, or threats. And the audience was eager to listen. “I know you are here to protect me,” Pace said. “An educated police officer is my best friend.” Pace was educating the newest members of the Crisis Intervention Team, officers from the St. Louis County police and seven municipalities who are trained in managing situations involving the mentally ill – and in getting them help.
Although the Crisis Intervention Team is in its infancy, police and mental health experts already hail it as a success. “It’s revolutionary in the way that mental health providers and law enforcement are cooperating,” said Jacqueline Lukitsch of the St. Louis chapter of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. The partnership includes hospitals, mental health providers, prosecutors, and others who can smooth the road for people whose behavioral problems need treatment, not jail. “Just understanding what’s going on with a mental illness makes all the difference,” Lukitsch said. Memphis police created the concept of “crisis intervention teams” in 1988. Some other large cities – including Houston and Portland – introduced similar programs.