STPD joins effort to better understand mental illness

By Diana Hutchison

Nationwide it is becoming increasingly common for law enforcement agencies to respond to or intervene on the behalf of individuals affected by mental illness.  The Snowflake Taylor Police Department (STPD) is no exception and has made the decision to join the One Mind Campaign to better serve the community and those with mental illness.

The Treatment Advocacy Center, a nonprofit dedicated to eliminating barriers to timely and effective treatment of severe mental illness, has found that persons with severe mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed by law enforcement than other individuals. That is where the One Mind Campaign comes in.

The One Mind Campaign‘s goal is to ensure successful interactions between law enforcement and individuals affected by mental illness. Currently there are seven participating agencies in Arizona including the STPD. Locally, the Winslow Police Department has already taken the One Mind Campaign pledge and is partnering with the STPD on training.

STPD Chief Larry Scarber attends an annual conference by the International Association of Chiefs of Police and was presented information about this pledge and decided this would be important for the STPD and the community. “We are seeing an increase in mental health related issues and mental health related court cases,” said Scarber.

Taking this pledge requires that the law enforcement agency establish a relationship with a community mental health organization. Local mental health care provider ChangePoint Integrated Health has offered to collaborate with STPD on this campaign.  Chief Scarber said, “We are very fortunate to have ChangePoint right down the street.”

Dr. Darwin West is the Program Director for the ChangePoint outpatient clinic in Snowflake and has been coordinating with the STPD on this pledge. West said, “I believe there is a significant benefit to a strong working relationship with the local behavioral health system and the police department.  There are specialists within each of these departments that have advanced training in dealing with many of the difficult situations that are encountered within our community.”

In addition to establishing a partnership with a mental health care provider, the STPD will also have all sworn officers and selected non-sworn staff trained in mental health first aid. That training includes a variety of de-escalation and communication techniques. More comprehensive training will then be given to at least 20 percent of all personnel to form a crisis intervention team. That team will work with ChangePoint to provide crisis intervention for individuals affected by mental illness during a law enforcement response.

The American Psychiatric Association estimates that in a large urban police department, 11 percent of officer-involved shootings in a 10-year period were identified as suicide-by-cop.

That is a situation that both the community and law enforcement want to avoid.  That is why taking this pledge and effective partnerships like the one between STPD, the Winslow Police Department and ChangePoint are key in changing the way law enforcement agencies respond to people with mental illness.