There is an increasingly popular argument suggesting that investment in Mental Health First Responders over new police hires may help reduce fatal interactions between police officers and individuals experiencing a mental health crisis, but these proposed reforms often miss the bigger picture.
Currently, police act as mental health first responders when they provide “welfare checks,” a non-crime-related service in which local law enforcement checks on the wellness and safety of the individual(s), usually requested by concerned friends, family, or neighbors.
But as a Washington Post database shows, 1 in 5 individuals shot by police had a mental illness or was experiencing a mental health crisis, often during a welfare check. The risk of being shot by a police officer increases at the intersection of Blackness and having a mental illness. Would further mental health training for police and law enforcement actually increase safety in these situations?
In response to calls for police reform, many states have implemented policies that establish improved practices. These practices have varying degrees of police involvement, from police-based responses to community- or professional-based responses. Police-based responses can include crisis intervention teams, where police officers with 40 additional hours of specialized training are dispatched when appropriate. Community-based responses can include 911 dispatchers triaging calls and dispatching mobile crisis teams of EMTs, peers, and behavioral crisis experts instead of police.
Unfortunately, while well-intentioned, these policies are missing the point. The reliance on police officers to respond to welfare check requests in any capacity underscores the weaknesses and inadequacies of U.S. mental health services. Policymakers must take comprehensive steps to provide widely accessible, destigmatized mental health care and substance use treatment on a County, State, and federal level to serve their citizens better.
As decision-makers begin to rethink the role of police in mental health crises, adopting a strategy that layers these approaches to build a robust and comprehensive crisis response model would best serve their community’s needs. But, any attempt to address police killings of people experiencing a mental health crisis must also address the stark inequities and barriers that exist in our mental health systems and expand early intervention and prevention services.
I think about these issues a lot, in part because I’m in school studying public policy and administration, but also because I have personal experience with how terrifying a “wellness check” can be.
Just over a year ago, I was upstairs in my room listening to a lecture for a class I’m taking for my master’s degree. Then, I heard my doorbell ring. I looked out onto the street below and saw four police SUVs outside my house.
I have privilege; I have not interacted with many police officers in my life. But, I am a Brown, 26-year-old woman who immigrated to the United States from England. So, I immediately panicked. I closed my laptop, grabbed my phone, called my mum, told her what was happening, asked her to take the rest of the day off work, put her on speaker, and told her to stay on the phone with me. Then, hands shaking, I walked downstairs and opened the door.
Four County sheriff officers were standing on my front porch. The officer closest to my door was in full tactical gear and holding one of those shields that protect them from … I’m not sure what. I’m originally from England, where police officers carry a baton or pepper spray, so I’ve rarely encountered or interacted with police officers holding guns.
I don’t remember what the two officers in the middle were doing, because I looked behind them and saw the final officer holding an assault rifle aimed toward me. The first thing I did was put my hands up, and I told my mum (who was still on speaker) to come home now, and I would call her back. One of the officers then explained why they were standing on my front porch.
They asked if my friend was inside. I said no, he had left to stay with someone else. Then they asked if they could enter my house to check for themselves. I said yes, and informed them that the three golden retrievers in the house were not aggressive, just a little excited.
My friend — who lived with me — had a history of alcoholism and was experiencing a mental health crisis and needed help, and a worried member of our community had called for a welfare check.
But how was this militarized response, which terrified me and immediately escalated the situation, supposed to help? And what if my friend had access to free substance use treatment and mental health care instead?
We need a strategy that focuses on mental health crisis prevention and intervention.
We can’t prevent all mental health crises, so a crisis response — informed by cognitive and behavioral health — is necessary when they do happen. The mere presence of police officers escalates any situation, triggering an inevitable increase in anxiety, tension, and fear, putting all parties involved at an increased risk for injury and death. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) provides a clear position on this: “While law enforcement may still play a role in some mental health crises, the primary response should come from mental health crisis response professionals.”
Nationwide protests roused some cities to reimagine mental health crises responses. Eugene, Oregon, has implemented the Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets (CAHOOTS) program, which diverts calls away from police to a more appropriate service to resolve the situation. Similar programs can be found in Denver, Colorado’s Support Team Assisted Response (STAR). But, as frustration and fatigue grow over the stalled pace of change, the sense of urgency around this issue has seemingly dissipated. Moreover, CAHOOTS only diverts 5%–8% of calls for service away from Eugene’s police department to other more appropriate services.
To that end, President Biden’s “Strategy to Address Our National Mental Health Crisis” is an encouraging leap forward. It promises millions of dollars from the president’s FY23 budget to investments for programs that will increase the supply of behavioral health providers to underserved communities. It would also create community-based mobile crisis response teams, evidence-based community mental health services, and research into innovative mental health treatment models.
My experience ended peacefully, but many end in trauma, violence, and, in the most harrowing instances, death. Access to affordable and sustainable outpatient or inpatient mental health services is a crucial part of avoiding police intervention that too often ends in tragedy.
The South Seattle Emerald is committed to holding space for a variety of viewpoints within our community, with the understanding that differing perspectives do not negate mutual respect amongst community members.
The opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints expressed by the contributors on this website do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints of the Emerald or official policies of the Emerald.
Ayomi Rajapakse (she/her) is a second-year graduate student at the Daniel J. Evans School of Public Policy and Governance, and program associate for the Center for Trust and Transformation.
Veteran Arrested for Sitting on a Bench
Imagine loosing a legal argument on every level to a completely drunk man while you’re the police lmao
The fact that the department defended this cop’s actions shows exactly why cops cannot be allowed to police themselves.If he can call himself an Uber and wait for that Uber calmly in the middle of the night, he is basically a model of how you should act when you drink.VET: “I’m waiting for my Uber” COP: “Cool, man, I’ll just hang out and chat with you until it gets here. How was your night?” It could have been that easy.“You’re intoxicated in public” Literally sitting outside a bar, waiting on a ride You can’t even be responsible and not drive drunk anymore. 🤦🏾♂️Clearly a military vet with PTSD who drank until the bar closed. Really… we don’t need Sherlock to get to the bottom of this case.. the police questioning is embarrassing to watch.apart from mass surveillance, I can see no reason how knowing this mans name or seeing his ID would assist police in doing their job in this situation.I like how the “closed business” is a bar with a handy bench in front for exactly this purpose and its suspicious to use it exactly as intended.Let me get this straight… An obvious customer at a bar that recently closed, who is sitting on a bench waiting for his Uber ride, has broken the law because he’s drunk waiting for his Uber ride? We’ve clearly removed “free” from our “Land of the free” slogan. Don’t tell those officers how many people walk out of bars intoxicated and catch Uber rides, they’ll be in for a shocker.Mr James gets an A+, because although he was clearly very drunk, he managed to remain cool and collected. He was more reasonable than this police officer harassing him for doing absolutely nothing.“you’re intoxicated in public… at a closed business, in a high crime area” very nice of the officer to list his three different unlawful justifications.“You’re a danger to yourself.” Yes. He certainly appeared that way while sitting quietly on a bench.Cop: “I don’t think, I don’t think you’re making good choices” Vet: “I’m waiting on my Uber which is the best choice… the worst choice would’ve been driving” How is a drunk man making more sense than a completely sober cop 🤡🤣🤣“You can’t call an Uber that’s not how it works.” As if “Calling an Uber” isn’t how literally everyone says itHe’s clearly drunk but he makes 100x more sense than the cop.This exact situation with cops happened to my neighbor and after he got home from his Uber ride, he looked online for a good lawyer and sued the police department for $78,990.00 and he won his case. This guy needs to lawyer up. This is an easy win.He’s literally done everything perfectly. Quietly minding his own business and waiting on a ride after drinking. He should have been praised by the officersI worked in Scotland for a few years. I was so drunk one night I fell down and couldn’t get up. A cop picked me up and gave me a lift home and made sure I got inside OK. American cops need to be re-trained across the board. They’re here to help us.I’m continually embarrassed for the cops in your videos. Its remarkable how many stops are made with little to no illegal activity being done.The police caused a lot of harm here. Respect to the guy for calling an Uber instead of driving himself and respect for being so patient and calm with such unprofessional policeThe hate for cops is never going to stop, because of officers like this one,Officer: “We can do this one of two ways, sir.” Reply: “You can either respect my rights or you can be sued for not respecting my rights.”For sitting on a bench in a country he fought for and served! Wow! That should grind anyone’s gears, man. 🇺🇸Back in my day the cop would offered you a ride home or called you a cab. Now today it’s show me your papers. We used to make fun of the communist countries of this, but now here we areWhen an intoxicated man destroys your legal arguments when you’re a police officer, it’s time to find a new profession.“Calling an Uber” is a colloquialism for hailing, or ordering a ride. I’ve used the term “calling” for an Uber while sober. That cop is a joke. Not to mention, when the drive confirms the trip, you can actually call them, which I’ve also done numerous times.Watching and listening to these police officers so called doing their job, makes me completely understand why the majority of Americans distrust and treat them with hostility. This episode could have been so different and the officers could have come away with loads of kudos and admiration. Instead, they come across demonstrably as wankers.Don’t drink and drive” Ok, I’ll call an Uber “Oh a wise guy eh? Cuff em”“I don’t think you are making good choices.” -Cop, speaking to man who made the choice to take an Uber while intoxicated.“I have no idea who you are or what you are doing. It’s my job to find out.” That is the most horrifying thing to have crawled out of that officer’s mouth. No joke, get defunded.You watch enough of these videos you start to see why people are fearful and angry at “law” enforcement. It doesn’t provide the slightest bit of trust in them or anyone who supports them.A good cop would be like: – I’ll just stay here until your uber arrives, making sure that you are safe. End of story.“thank you for your service” as the cop proves that the freedoms the guy put his life on the line to defend barely exist any more.I was drunk in Australia in my youth in a very similar position when the police pulled up. I told them I was waiting for a taxi, they offered me a lift home, I accepted and had an awesome free ride home.Officer: “sir you cant even walk” Well maybe thats why he was sitting down“We can do this one of two ways, sir.” “We can do this one of many ways.” One of the two of them understands how physics works, at least.U heard it straight from the cops mouth, it’s “his job to find out who everyone is and what their business in the area is.” Not to stop and prevent crimes. Not to help assist and serve the public.the fact these cops’ partners almost always dont see anything wrong with whats happening is concerningThank God the cops got there just in time to stop this man and his uber driver from carrying out their heinous crimes. Everyone knows the most the violent crimes start off with a veteran sitting on a bench minding his own business. You’re not fooling anybody with your acting drunk and respectful demeanor. We’ve all watched Rambo!This makes me mad, especially when we all know cops invest time and money into inventing “feel good” stories to clean up their image. They have ample opportunities every day to make a positive impact, but so often they turn something that should have been an obvious opportunity to express good will and public service into a drama that only gets them more bad publicity. He should have just sat with him until the Uber arrived, but instead he had to go on a power trip.“Is there anyone sober who can come get you?” “MY UBER DRIVER!”And cops wonder why people have so much reserved anger towards them! This is wrong in so many levels!Gotta love the fact that cops don’t even have to know the laws they “enforce”As taught in the police academy, if you have contact with anybody, they are to be arrested, convicted and sent to prison. It’s scary these cops are actually allowed to carry guns.thing really irked me about this. He said at the end, “You said you ‘called’ an uber. You can’t call an uber.” That really is a blatant attempt at criminalizing everything about the ordeal, like the narrator said. That really ticked me off cuz I’d want to be like, “What are you some kind of genius?? It’s an expression! You don’t ‘order’ an uber. Stop pretending not to understand common language just so you could justify your nonsense suspicions.”I’ve always wondered what imaginary Fantasyland these cops live in because a logical person would see that he’s waiting for an Uber in front of a bar that he’s drunk and he’s doing the responsible thing but I think cops are mad that people are being responsible nowThe argument that “he couldn’t take care of himself” makes absolutely no sense, when despite being drunk he had the ability to make the appropriate decision of calling an Uber for a ride instead of driving under the influence.Bro he’s asking a drunk man dumb questions so he can incriminate his self. Just sitting there bothering no one, making the best decision of getting a ride 🤦♂️The amount of CRIME going down in the US and this muppet wants to target someone doing nothing. I thought the US was a free country, apparently not. And if being intoxicated in public is an offence then that officer needs to get ALL bars shut down immediately.Everytime I watch these videos it opens my eyes to see why people want to defund the police…now that is just plain stupid, but there needs to be an accountability to people like this. I won’t use the word officer, because that is a word of respect. These people don’t deserve or get that word from me.I’ve been trying to justify some of the cops actions in these videos and try see it from their point of view but I think its impossible I give up at this video.The butt-hurt that ensued when homie pulls out his camera is on another level. Straight up cuffs my dude.You know there’s something wrong with society when the citizens know the law better than the people who are supposed to uphold it and we weren’t even taught it in school we had to learn it ourselves they were taught in schoolCops like these always ask why the public is losing trust in them and it’s things like this that screw up public relations. I want to have cops back but they just make it so hard…He pulls out the cuffs the moment the man gets his phone recording, this definitely seems retaliatory for the act of filming. This officer was power tripping over a drunk man minding his own business.8:29 Officer – “I have no idea who you are or what you’re doing, and it’s my job to find out.” This officer literally doesn’t know what his job responsibilities are.I love when they know they’re wrong so they pedantic. “You can’t CALL an Uber, thats not how it works”. Like buddy you know what he meansHe did not authorize them to check his phone, he was forced to do it while being handcuffed and on the back of a patrol.The officer could have said “oh, that’s cool man. I’ll wait with you since this is a high crime area and the business is closed” or even “oh hey, if they’ll be awhile, I can just give you a ride home.” But hey, the officer had to be a douchenozzle.Guilty until proven innocent. I love how most cops have no idea about the laws they try to uphold. The US police force has the least amount of training out of any other country in the world. We NEED to fix this.The more I watch these videos it just gets my blood boiling it’s insane almost like it was Nazi Germany, Cops need to calm down not everyone’s the bad guy. I thank this man for not drinking and driving !!!Reminds me of sitting on a park bench on Manhattan one afternoon with one of my knees up, as my ankles had some venous stasis from standing all day In the heat. A huge officer yelled at me to take my knee down from the bench like I was some criminal. I took it down, but my face probably revealed my shock in how he treated me. As he walked away, he suddenly stopped and turned around, hoping to catch me putting my knee back up. If I had put it up, I’m sure he would have arrested me, as he was that angry. Total abuse of power.Cops like this give honest cops who actually serve the public and uphold the law properly a bad name.I like how this cop claims he was being reasonable with him. Sure if it was 1980, and we were in the soviet union.It seems that often a cop gets angry on a personally level when their authority is questioned, even if they have exceeded it. They then go out of their way to abuse their power to teach the public a lesson. Its not very professional.This cop is not doing his job. He is assaulting a law abiding citizen. “I was trying to be reasonable with you”. This was just an ego trip gone wrong.Veteran gets an A++ He did the right thing and never showed anger or threats. Officer escalated the whole situation.Love how the cop asked to see the Uber receipt one time, literally, kept implying as if he asked him 100 timesIt’s such a shame that officers are wasting their time with this, when there are gangs causing trouble all around the town.He broke the worst law you can break, he argued with a cop. The cop even says, I wanted to talk with you and all you did was argue with me. That’s really what got him cuffed. These cops have such egos they wind up breaking the law to satisfy their ego.The Wheat Ridge police department issued a self-serving explanation of what happened which was untruthful and deceptive. How can we trust cops when this kind of stuff happens?No. “Guy arrested for sitting on a bench”, him being a veteran has no bearing on the interaction, nor should it. He has the same rights as every other citizen.About 2 seconds into the interaction, before he knows anything about the guy; “This can go one of two ways”. Yeah pretty obvious this dude only became a cop so he could attach some actual power to his giant egoTo me a big thing is that I imagine a lot of cops go their entire careers not meeting one person willing to stand up for their rights, and when they do their behavior is sometimes symptomatic with what the cops see because of their experiences as someone who’s actually up to no good. So I think that a big part of preventing things is going to also be showing people to educate themselves and not allow themselves to be walked all over.every cop ever: I need to confirm your identity for no justifiable reason informed citizen: no thanks, I haven’t done anything cop: i’m going to need backup, this person has assaulted my pride.nice. so glad the police are protecting and serving me from this peaceful intoxicated man trying to get an uber home. he was CLEARLY a threat to himself and others……sureThey use that “danger to oneself and to others” in florida and i’ve seen them use it just for simply having a disagreement or because of gossip they heard.10:15 Cop: “ Is there anybody sober that can come get you?” Yea.. the urber driver if you let me leave!! Cops are a pain in the ass.The one constant in all these videos with police interactions is the cops ego’s. This man told you he’s waiting for an Uber so you escalate with the man then want to throw him in the drunk tank. How is any of that the human thing to do? The man said he’s waiting for an Uber and you threatened to put him in the drunk tank, then you bully him and unlawfully search his phone.He’s just sitting there….MENNACINGLY!
Toronto ‘Solves’ Poverty Through Force
Toronto’s approach to homelessness is inhumane.