For many police officers, working with the mentally ill is routine. But it’s not often easy, especially if the subject is agitated and presenting a threat to his- or herself and others. Following are five general tips to make it, hopefully, an easier and safer interaction.
1) There are many potential scenarios LEOs regularly face for which attempting verbal deescalation will actually jeopardize officer safety, and it is therefore is inadvisable.
2) Using command-and-control style communication with actively psychotic persons often leads to the situation being escalated.
3) The communities we serve and the courts have both been raising the bar in terms of the expectations they have for law enforcement when interacting with people in psychiatric crisis.
4) Case law has been moving in the direction of expecting officers to get a “specialist” on scene when interacting with mentally ill subjects. Specialists are officers with additional training (i.e., crisis intervention team) or mental health professionals who work in the field with law enforcement.
5) It’s important for officers to (a) slow things down whenever possible, (b) get as much information as possible about the subject they are contacting before making contact, (c) call in a specialist whenever possible, and (d) whenever possible attempt to use crisis-deescalation with the subject.