Report: Nearly 20% of calls to law enforcement involve mental health crises

PITTSBURGH — The American Psychological Association estimates that nearly 20% of all calls to law enforcement involve someone dealing with a mental issue.

“It’s very apparent that we as first responders [need to] have a strong working relationship with our mental health providers,” Asst. Pittsburgh Police Chief Anna Kudrav said.

It’s a bond she says is much stronger than it was when she started in law enforcement nearly 40 years ago. In those days, mental health training was minimal.

Kudrav says things began to change in 2007 when a new training program became available – training provided by groups like UPMC’s Resolve Crisis Center.

“We’ve trained over a thousand officers in something we call ‘crisis intervention team training’ which is working with people with mental issues,” Medical Director of Resolve Dr. Jack Rozel said. “Some of that is how to recognize people who might be having a psychiatric emergency and how to appropriately respond to them without escalating the situation.”

For law enforcement, recognizing a person in need is the first step.

“The training helps the officer pick up on these clues quickly that, OK, this person may not be deliberately acting this way,” Kudrav said.

Then, it’s a conversation. A dialogue is established between officers and the person. It includes getting them to open up about what’s going on and moving them away from any weapons or dangerous materials.

“Slowly, but surely, surrounding them in a gentle way so they can calm down and getting that stabilization,” Kudrav said.

Just as important is not making things worse.

“Snapping to judgement, interrupting, forcing containment or control on them before it’s necessary or appropriate would all be problematic interventions,” Rozel said.

“As the first responder, we’re engaging with people first and we want to be able to do a better job,” Kudrav said.

Rozel adds that the demand for services is only growing. The phone number for Resolve is 1(888)796-8226. You can also call 988, the suicide hotline, from any 412 and some 724 area codes to be directed to them.

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