Any family that has experienced mental health challenges knows that mental health services are needed across a spectrum of capabilities, especially during a crisis. A call to “911” results in a response by police officers. If the family is lucky, they will encounter officers specifically trained for mental health crises. Do you know what happens next? Do you know what options are available to the person, the family or the officer here in Prince William County?
Why it’s important
Not all mental health crises are the same and too often, a call to 911 by a desperate family member results in their loved one interacting with the criminal justice system. It’s important that families and responding officers/health care professionals have a range of options appropriate to the person and his or her mental illness symptoms being presented. Prince William County Police Department has recently implemented “co-responder” units. Now when residents call 911 for a mental health crisis emergency, a mental health professional is partnered with a police officer to respond to the call. While this is certainly a step in the right direction, there is still room for improvement in ensuring that individuals experiencing mental health crisis get medical care, rather than end up engaging with the criminal justice system.
Go Deeper: Crisis Stabilization Units (CSU)
A portion of Prince William County police officers receive Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) to de-escalate encounters with persons in mental health or substance abuse crisis. It serves to reduce resistance during the encounter, in turn reducing injuries for the person in crisis and officers. It also seeks to decrease inappropriate arrests by keeping those in crisis out of the criminal justice system and connecting them with effective assessment and referrals for treatment. However, many individuals that need medical and mental health treatment wind up in the emergency room or jail. Neither of these are appropriate for the care that is necessary to truly help those experiencing a mental health crisis.
Imagine if there were an “urgent care center” for those experiencing difficulties with mental health or substance abuse issues. Such centers exist around the country. They are called Crisis Stabilization Units. When brought to a CSU, individuals can access the services they need to get well. Currently, if there is space in a treatment center for the individual in crisis, the officer is responsible for transportation to the center. If a bed is not available, the individual may need to spend the night in jail while waiting to be transported to receive the help that they need. If Prince William County were to have a Crisis Stabilization Unit, police officers would be able to quickly get individuals in crisis the help they need, when they need it, not hours later. This would allow police officers to focus on policing and mental health professionals to focus on treatment. A CSU also reduces the practice of criminalizing mental health issues.
Currently, VOICE is working with the Prince William County Police Department and the Board of County Supervisors to explore the possibility of building a Crisis Stabilization Unit in the county. VOICE leaders are holding listening sessions with people who have been engaged with the criminal justice system as a result of mental health issues. Please contact Michelle Nicolai, [email protected] to find out how you can get involved with this important work.