Understanding Mental Health in Law Enforcement
Law enforcement officers often see and experience awful things in the tenure of their careers – things most people will never see or experience in their lifetimes. These individuals understand and recognize that this is part of the job - they know it walking in, but it doesn’t make witnessing these incidents easy. Police work is stressful and dangerous with officers many times approaching calls or incidents in which they are not aware of a mental health issue.
CentralSquare Chief Revenue Officer, Dan Maier sat down with Commissioner William Evans, Executive Director of Public Safety at Boston College to discuss the role mental health plays in law enforcement and the ways in which technology can help.
Training is key
With 38 years as a member of the Boston Police Department, Commissioner Evans says “training is key” when it comes to helping police officers prepare to deal with mental health calls,” The biggest investment law enforcement leaders can make is investing in their officers and investing in the right technology and programs that can support this.
It’s not just about responding to an incident but also supporting the officer after the incident or call. Law enforcement officers must deal with the tragedies they will undoubtedly face in their careers.
“We have to have an outlet," says Commissioner Evans; for him, that means running several miles every morning.
Speaking to police officers about their mental health is not an easy feat as many feel a reluctance in speaking to a mental health provider or seeking help - “there is a stigma or secrecy around it, but it's changing now,” said Evans.
Many agencies offer mental health services for their officers, particularly after a major incident. For example, the Boston Police Department offers a Peer Support Unit, Critical Incident Stress Management Team, and Suicide Prevention Training through the Boston Police Department Foundation.
It is important to have police officers who are not just physically healthy but mentally healthy as well and will want to stay on the job.
Mental health and retention
Mental health has also played a role in recruiting and retaining officers.
It has become increasingly difficult for agencies to not only recruit but also retain the officers they have. These staffing challenges impacts police officers because they are being asked to do more with less. This impacts agencies of all sizes across the country.
“With the atmosphere out there that all police officers are bad it is having a huge impact on police officers as they go about their job,” said Commissioner Evans. When we have these major incidents that highlight one incident, and all officers get tainted with the same it has a significant impact on mental health and makes it increasingly difficult to recruit.
In addition to the mental health of police officers and how it impacts recruitment are the calls they respond to in which mental health is an issue.
Many calls don’t alert whether mental health issues are present when police officers arrive. If first responders had a way of knowing whether mental health issues are present in a particular call, they could respond accordingly and effectively deescalate a situation.
Approximately 10% of police calls involve someone who is mentally ill, and how officers handle these calls can make the difference between life and death.
When asked how technology can help assist officers with this, Commissioner Evans said, “the right technology can help red flag mental health cases and help with social services follow up.” He envisions a future where law enforcement agencies and social services agencies work together as one team – where mental health first responders have connected CAD or RMS so incidents are tracked for all agencies and proper follow-up can happen.
When asked if dispatching social services instead of police to respond to an incident is a good idea, Commissioner Evans shares that it cannot be left to one agency or the other. “It has to be a dual response from one team;” made up of police officers and mental health providers and/or social services agencies.
Role of technology
Technology can play a role in being able to think ahead to make better decisions and most importantly keep police officers and those they help healthy.
CentralSquare understands the importance, especially as we continue to evolve our products and services. We believe the more we can do to bring law enforcement and mental health agencies together the better it is for our customers and our communities.
We have built our software to help you manage your most complex incidents and problems – and mental health is one of the most complex issues facing policing today.
“I envision technology being the viaduct that brings all the agencies together so a family in crisis can get the help they need,” said Commissioner Evans.