Police agencies wrestle with most effective ways to handle mental health calls

FORT WAYNE, Indiana (WPTA) – Domestic conflicts, suicide threats, and other mental health interventions are among the most difficult tasks police officers face in their daily duties. Some experts believe there could be better outcomes if mental health professionals played a greater role in responding to these crisis calls.

New Haven Police Department officers came to a neighborhood Monday after family members of an 18-year-old called and said the young man made vague threats about self-harm. When two officers eventually confronted the man outside a house in an attempt to arrest him, police said he pulled a knife out of his pocket and slashed the officers.

They were treated in hospital for non-life-threatening injuries. When officers are called to deal with mental health interventions, seeing their clothes and weapons can add to tensions, says Dominic Lombardo, director of the criminal justice program at Indiana Tech and a former police officer in Los Angeles. It supports the number of larger police agencies that are increasingly using mental health professionals with police officers to process suicide calls or other potentially explosive service calls.

“Initially it was the response, but handing it over to someone who is well-versed and well-trained in social work, a lot of departments are finding it de-escalates the situation,” Lombardo said.

Alice Jordan Miles, director of the Purdue Institute for Behavioral Health and Family Studies in Purdue Fort Wayne, is also a leader in the Suicide Prevention Coalition in Indiana. She says law enforcement is on track to expand the influence of mental health experts in crisis interventions, but says there is more work to be done.

“We are the only country that imprisons people because they have mental instability. We need the individual to process what is going on with them,” Jordan Miles said.

18-year-old Brandon Gardner, the teen accused of stabbing New Haven officers, faces nine criminal charges, including eight felony counts.

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