Listen to Me First: Week 2 Transcript
Speakers: Host, Dr. Grace Telesco
Host: Welcome to this week’s podcast. This week we’ll be discussing law enforcement as first line service providers.
What is the law enforcement officer’s role as a first-line service provider of mental health and crisis intervention?
- TELESCO: Well you know, when we were talking about Week One, we were saying that officers are agents of government, and when a police officer is sworn in, they take an oath and that oath is to protect and uphold the constitution of the United States and their particular state.
One of the things we’re also upholding is something called a social contract. This is power that the people give to the police in exchange for protection and service. Thus the tagline, that the police are there to protect and to serve. So we want to say about 80 percent of policing is service oriented. What that means is that nine times out of ten, a police officer is going to responding to things like past crimes, a person that is sick, a child is lost, all of these different things which are sort of non-crime related are actually opportunities for the law enforcement and the police to be service providers of not only mental health but also crisis intervention.
Host: What are some examples of service calls that involve mental health services and crisis intervention?
- TELESCO: Well, I have served as a lieutenant in the NYPD, and I did that for twenty years. This is anecdotal of course, but it is backed up by empirical evidence, which suggests that officers are responding to typical calls for service that are not everything that you kind of see in the media. You know, not everything that you see in film with various shootings or arrests, arresting the bad guy kind of things.
Most of the time, the typical call that a police officer responds to is something like someone who is sick, someone who is maybe exhibiting a mental illness, who is apparently mentally ill and may be a danger to themselves or others, a disaster situation, a motor vehicle accident where several people may have been injured and any people are in crisis.
You know, we used to have a saying in the police academy in New York that policing is actually hours of boredom and moments of terror. And so it may not be seen as exciting as something that you see in Hollywood, but the typical call for service is that of crisis interventionists, if you will, mental health service providers. And most people don’t see that role for law enforcement. They see law enforcement as, you know, getting involved in shootings or locking up the bad guys – and we do that too. There’s no doubt that we do that too, but more often than not we’re responding to those kinds of calls where people are in need of our service either from a mental health perspective or from a crisis perspective.
Host: What strategies does law enforcement use for crisis intervention and mental health services?
- TELESCO: Well, you know, there’s two things. One is that it is from a training perspective, so what are officers trained to do? And many, many police departments have curriculum that trains them in crisis intervention and effective responses. Various kinds of mental hygiene laws are in place and officers have to learn about those mental hygiene laws and when can they take someone into custody, in a criminal setting, someone who is going to be brought to a psychiatric emergency room, for example, so involuntary custody cases and things like that.
So number one, training. Training is important, but the other part of this is policy. So with policies in place and various strategies in place, like mandatory custody policies and programs for people who are mentally ill, emergency response plans. It’s a key to train our officers in how to do these things effectively, but also many police departments have current strategies and policies in place that sort of dictate how officers will respond in a crisis or when someone is mentally ill.
One example I can offer is let’s say there is a woman at a shopping mall, a mother actually, and she is hysterical because she has lost her four-year-old child. And so the police are called to the scene and you know, at first, the perception of the police might be that this woman is mentally ill. I mean, she is, you know, exhibiting hysteria. She might be cursing. She might be speaking another language. You know, when people are in crisis, they exhibit some of the same signs that might be exhibited in mental illness or a mental disorder.
But upon further investigation – and that is what we do as police, a fact-finding mission – in gathering the intelligence of what is going on, we discover that it is a four-year-old that is lost. So, very appropriate reaction from the mother. Although it might seem inappropriate because she is screaming and carrying on, it’s appropriate to the circumstances.
So a police officer who has been trained in crisis intervention is going to respond to this woman and give her, first of all, eye contact. They are going to validate that she is upset and that she has every right to be upset. They want to assure her and let her know that she is safe. It’s okay. We’re going to find him or her, and we’re going to do what we can, and we’re in this together kind of thing.
So effective crisis-intervention strategies are going to de-escalate this situation. An officer who has been trained effectively, policies that are in place that are crisis intervention strategies are going to help resolve this problem for this woman. One would think, is that really a police officer’s job to be helping to find some lost child? And the answer is yes. It is totally a typical call that an officer might be responding to where crisis-intervention strategies are going to help resolve the situation.
HOST: Consider these concepts as you read your materials, complete your assignments, and answer this week’s discussion questions. Follow up with your instructor if you have any questions.