All day long I have my police radio on in my office while I’m doing other administrative tasks or meeting with members of the staff or public. I may not be consciously listening but it is a comfortable sound to me and I like to hear the calls as they are dispatched. That way I keep up with what is going on outside in real time. I can sometimes tell the severity of the call from subtle cues in the voices of the dispatchers. And it is always interesting to hear how a call is being described to an officer being sent.
More and more I hear us being sent to deal with situations involving people with mental health issues. Last year we responded to 122 calls that were related to mental health issues: attempt suicides, suicidal thoughts and a variety of other aspects of people in mental health crisis of one type or another. This year so far we have responded to 89 calls.
Yesterday officers were sent to assist a person who sounded to the dispatcher as a person who was having a mental health crisis. He had given his car to a woman who hadn’t returned it for several days. He knows who she is. Upon arrival officers called for an EMS response after they found suspicious injuries that they thought could be self inflicted. Don’t worry, we’ll follow up and try to get his car back. Today we responded to a hotel to assist a caregiver for an adult with mental health issues that was out of control. On each call, two officers tied up for an hour or more. I’m not suggesting that the call wasn’t important or the police shouldn’t be there — only that when police are measured by crime statistics–those statistics don’t take into account this type of non criminal call which by the way, came in during our busiest point of the day.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health 1 in 5 adults in the US (18.9% of the population) experience mental illness in a given year. And the average delay between onset of symptoms and intervention is 8-10 years according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. So when a person is experiencing symptoms–often the police are called to deal with a person in crisis. Even more concerning is that only 41% of adults in the country with a mental health condition received mental health services in the past year, according to the same group.
So if you consider measuring the effectiveness of police by traditional measures like rate of reported crime or crime clearance you miss a very large aspect of what police actually do. There isn’t a crime stat for responding to calls that involve mental health crises. Nationally only about 1/3 of our time is spent on crime reports the other 2/3 is spent on all of the other social order maintenance type of thing like these kinds of call.
Just something to consider.