More than a dozen police unions nationwide, including those in New York, Los Angeles, San Jose and Chicago, are throwing their support behind a national push for federal funding and other resources to help officers better prepare for interactions with people who are mentally ill, reports the Los Angeles Times. The unions want the federal government to pay for crisis-intervention training, less-lethal devices and officers who team up with mental health professionals to respond to emergency calls. Their agenda, dubbed “Compassionate and Accountable Responses for Everyone,” is being unveiled today.
Teaching police how to appropriately respond to someone who has mental health issues is nothing new, but those interactions have drawn renewed attention in recent years, particularly after several high-profile police shootings of people who were diagnosed with mental illnesses. Mental health advocates and police said that officers are often first responders in situations involving people who could be better helped with treatment or other services. Officers frequently describe feeling pressured to act not just as a police officer, but also as a therapist or social worker when responding to such calls — a difficult task, they say, if the encounter is volatile. “This is an issue that’s not going away. We have to deal with it,” said Jamie McBride, one of the Los Angeles Police Department union’s directors. “Enough is enough.” The coalition hopes that federal involvement will standardize mental health training for officers across the country and help departments create teams pairing police and mental health clinicians that respond to people who are in crisis. The International Association of Chiefs of Police launched its own effort last year to get agencies to craft policies and train officers to better handle situations involving mentally ill people. So far, only 140 of about 18,000 agencies have signed on.