DETROIT – Local police agencies are working to help the community differentiate between criminal activity and behavioral health disorders.
The Detroit Police Department receive all kinds of calls for help and they’re working to provide help for those who need it the most now and in the future.
“They’re asking for help. Whatever is in their mind is telling them to do what they’re doing,” said Marcus Harris II, with the Detroit Police Department.
Harris has seen it all on patrol. Recently, a call for help was made after drivers spotted a person running dangerously in and out of traffic.
“You get to the scene. You get to the location and you pull the person to the side and you have a conversation with them,” Harris said. “Be understanding. Be passionate because they’re not understanding what’s going on in their head.”
The call for help doesn’t end there. Harris is then able to use his training to identify if the person is having a mental health crisis. He knowns to offer resources for where the person can get the necessary attention.
“We’re able to be out here to deescalate the situation, give the person the proper help and change the dynamic of policing,” Harris said.
It a type of police response that is a part of Crisis Intervention Training.
“It’s training centered around bringing behavioral health specialists together with law enforcement professionals,” said Andrea Smith, with Detroit Wayne Integrated Health Network.
“You’re focusing on verbal de-escalation in a hands-off approach to reduce the instances of officer-related violence,” Smith said.
The training centers around identifying mental health issues, like depression, anxiety, suicide, eating disorders, hallucinations and more. Officers spend 40 hours in class to learn to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental illness.
“When you can understand your own trauma, you can approach individuals in the community differently. You’re looking at them from a trauma informed lens,” Smith said. “You’re not saying ‘What’s wrong with this person? You’re saying, ‘I know something has happened to this person. Let me change my approach.’”
Captain Tonya Leonard-Gilbert is the head of training for the Detroit Police Department. She’s seen how Crisis Intervention Training works.
“I’m sure that everyone has someone in their family that has been impacted by mental health so I’m happy to see us approach it in this way,” Leonard-Gilbert said. “When we engage a member that has come in that has a mental health crisis, we’re able to provide services. We’re able to create a jail diversion or hospital diversion and actually get them to the providers that they need in hopes that they get the resources and support that they need so that they don’t have to call 911 in a crisis state.”
Since his crisis training in 2020, Harris has seen the positive impact this type of policing has had on the community. He joined the CIT team as an instructor, advocating for mental health awareness. He wants everyone to know there is help available and the police are there to bridge that gap.
“They’re not alone. They’re not alone at all,” Harris said. “I said the training teaches people to be compassionate, be caring and to know we’re here to help you.”
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