Crises comprise an integral part of human life. They have existed since the beginning of life. People faced the need to address various critical situations and assist individuals in diverse settings for many years. Nowadays, crisis intervention has developed into a definite practice that aims at preventing disasters or danger for individuals or society as a whole. Nowadays, the role of law enforcement is becoming more and more significant in crisis intervention. Previously, crises with mentally ill people, for instance, were expected to be solved by workers of corresponding hospitals or asylums. The tendency is changing as far as collaboration between mental health professionals and police representatives is becoming a predominant form of crisis intervention. In the first part of the following paper, the role of law enforcement in crisis intervention will be discussed. The plan to action for the described situation will be provided in the second part of the paper.
Understanding the Notion of Crisis Intervention
For many people, crisis intervention is associated with something global and devastating. Thus, many individuals believe that crisis intervention is about managing such disasters as 9/11 or natural catastrophes. These examples also belong to crisis intervention, and they are usually managed by federal agencies. In the following paper, crises related to mental health disturbances will be evaluated. Suicide prevention is considered to be the most widespread type of intervention. According to James and Gilliland (2012), three significant movements have shaped the modern form of crisis intervention. They were Vietnam Veterans, Alcoholics Anonymous, and the women movement in the 1970s.
Many attempts have been made to identify the notion of crisis. James and Gilliland (2012) provide a wide list of views about the individual crisis. Thus, it can be a situation when the person cannot accomplish the particular goal because of some obstacle. A crisis may occur in new settings when one does not know how to behave or what to do. The crisis is sometimes referred to as “traumatic stress” though these notions are not exactly the same. Still, as Sullivan, Rosen, Schulz, and Haberfeld (2004) write, “Whatever name is used to describe the condition, the impact is the same. Individuals in crisis are left feeling overwhelmed, out of control, and helpless” (p. 123).
It is also necessary to describe distinctive features of crisis to be aware of the concept and proceed with the investigation of the role of law enforcement. Probably, the basic aspect typical for crisis is the presence of both danger and opportunity. Thus, an individual who experiences crisis may face the danger of death or some hurt. At the same time, the improvement of the situation may result in better outcome. The second distinctive feature of crisis is that there is usually no immediate solution to the problem. For instance, police may reduce the threat at the particular moment, but a long-lasting therapeutic intervention is required for the well-being of the individual. Also, no one is safe from crises. No pattern explains the outburst of crises in people. At the same time, one person may overcome crisis individually while other may need professional assistance. Finally, crises are always about making choices. The need to do something is crucial when it comes to crisis intervention and management.
The Role of Law Enforcement and Related Issues
Crisis intervention for mentally ill people or those who suffer from temporary stress is rarely considered to be the task of the law enforcement agencies. However, the role of police officers or any other law enforcement representatives is becoming more and more significant nowadays. Such changes have not appeared suddenly. They are results of the sequence of events. Thus, in 1963, the new law concerning mentally ill people was introduced. It was the Community Mental Health Act. According to this Act, local centers for mental health treatment should be built in every state of the country. The creation of such system of centers would make it possible to provide mentally ill people with the necessary treatment at their homes. Unfortunately, the initiative was not successful due to the lack of funding. Consequently, many people who needed professional care were left in communities on their own. James and Gilliland (2012) write that the investigation of this situation was conducted in 1990. The results have shown that more than a half of calls to police concerned the need to control mentally ill individuals. In 1968, the psychologist Morton Bard directed the first family crisis intervention program in Police Department of New York. As Sullivan et al. (2004) conclude, “Bard discovered that in addition to the traditional focus on law enforcement, the police worked an array of important human service functions” (p. 122).
These situations have altered the role of law enforcement in crisis intervention. Thus, there was a need to prepare police officers to participate in not only instrumental crimes (robbery or theft) but also expressive crimes. These expressive crimes involve individuals who represent a threat to themselves or other people because of their vulnerability, stress, depression, or other mental condition.
The need for police officers to manage such situations became an impetus for several issues. The first problem concerned the increasing responsibility and burden for police officers. Second, many of them did not favor the idea of working with mentally disturbed individuals. As a result, it was necessary to shift priorities and explain the necessity to accept crisis intervention as a part of everyday duties. The most important relevant issue concerns the need to prepare police officers to react to such situations adequately. Crisis intervention for mentally ill includes emotional support and readiness to reduce negative emotions. Such practices are not included in police officers’ standard training.
Plans and Steps Regarding Crisis Intervention
The initial and, at the same time, the most significant step in crisis intervention is the ability to identify crisis. The need to intervene in crisis may arise at any time due to the peculiarities of the mental condition. Crises are not stable. They occur rapidly and in various forms. For instance, the woman described in the study yells and tears her shirt because she believes that “devil” is in it. This condition is peculiar and typical only for this woman. Any other individual may have extremely different symptoms, and it is necessary to be able to recognize them. Sullivan et al. (2004) write that many police departments employ Naomi Golan criteria for the evaluation of crisis. According to this model, the police officer should identify what makes the situation a crisis. In the case study, it is the fact that women with obvious mental disturbance (tearing “devil” from her shirt) blocks the traffic at one of the busy streets. The second step is to decide when the police officer should intervene. In the situation, the immediate intervention is required because the situation breaks public order. The third phase is to define goals that should be achieved. Thus, the police officer should minimize the risk of damage or worsening and take the women to the hospital. The last step presupposes the choice of steps that should be carried out. In the case under consideration, it is advisable to try to approach women and make her sure, that the police officer will help her to eliminate the problem.
Goals of Training
As it has been already mentioned, training is crucial for the successful management of crises of mentally disturbed people. The first thing about proper training is its goal. Thus, police crisis intervention aims to reduce immediate adverse effects of the crisis. No long-term treatment is presupposed. The task of the officer is to reduce the emotional upheaval and direct the individual to the relevant professional for further examination or treatment. Besides, all training includes the teaching of the following skills of human dynamics (Sullivan et al., 2004):
- Engagement — making a contact with the person;
- Establishing of calmness;
- Empowering — finding ways to regain control;
- Focusing — help the individual to realize the current situation;
The Crisis Intervention Team was a significant and successful achievement concerning the collaboration between mental health services and law enforcement. A tragedy that became an incentive for the creation of the program occurred in 1988. In Memphis, the police officer killed a man who was mentally disturbed and had a substance abuse. This fatal experience demonstrated the urgent need for police officers to be taught to behave in situations with mentally ill people. The Memphis Crisis Intervention Team model was established for this purpose.
Professionals in the mental health care aimed to provide police officers with training within the scope of the program. Only volunteers received training that lasted forty hours in total. Watson and Fulambarker (2012) write, “Training includes information on signs and symptoms of mental illnesses; mental health treatment; co-occurring disorders; legal issues and de-escalation techniques” (p. 73). The important element of training was the practice of the ability to deliver people to the emergency department. Thus, the police officer should obtain particular skills (such as dynamic human skills) to make the individual compliant and ready to collaborate. No rejections should be accepted.
This model enjoyed immediate success and became spread worldwide. Currently, more than one thousand programs have been realized. Even more, police departments often compete to prove their efficiency. As far as every state has a peculiar legal system, there are different types of the Crisis Intervention Team model. Watson and Fulambarker (2012) have studied the impact of CIT on safety and number and procedure of arrests of mentally ill people. For instance, initial findings provide information that the number of arrests decreased in Memphis after the implementation of the program. Besides, safety increased and more people who required professional assistance were taken to necessary centers. It is also significant to understand the primary aim of the program. James and Gilliland (2012) state, “It is not just a program to train police officers to deal with the mentally ill. It is a concept that brings all kinds of interest groups together in a network, and if that concept is not nourished, the program will fail” (p. 102).
In the situation under consideration, the woman yells in the busy street and tries to tear her shirt because she believes that there is “devil” in it. The primary issue concerns the very location of the crisis. Thus, the woman’s behavior has ceased the traffic in the street. People are angry, and the overall irritation increases. Naomi Golan criteria should be used for the evaluation of the crisis. Some considerations about this model have been already introduced, but the situation requires precise attention. Thus, the first point is that crisis exists. As a patrol officer, I am sure that the individual experiences mental disturbance. Thoughts about devil possession of her shirt control the women. Besides, her behavior blocks the traffic. I have to intervene in the crisis immediately due to the increasing indignation among drivers and unknown outcomes of woman’s behavior. The primary goal of the intervention is to calm the woman down, make her feel safe, and remove her from the street.
Plan to Action
According to James and Gilliland (2012), “the equilibrium model seems most appropriate for early intervention, when the person is out of control, disoriented, and unable to make appropriate choices” (p. 17). As far as the crisis is at its onset, the equilibrium model is the most appropriate method of intervention. This model aims to assist people to recover their emotional stability or equilibrium.
The crisis has been identified, and tasks have been set. The next step should include the immediate contact with the woman. The skills of human dynamics described Sullivan et al. (2004) will be taken as a basis for intervention. During the engagement, I will introduce myself in a moderate and soft voice. I will not mention about woman’s possession, but I will try to establish contact via paying attention to the fact she is in the middle of the street. At the same time, I would ask other front-line personnel to contact drivers that are the angriest and ask them to stay calm for a few minutes. Also, it is necessary to ask pedestrians to stop staring at the woman to decrease possible uncomfortableness. This action should promote the establishment of the calm environment for the conversation with the women. I want to talk to her in the street first because she may be too emotional to follow me immediately. The third step is empowering. My task is to ask the woman about her worries and demonstrate empathy. I will also say that I understand everything, and I am there for help. After the initial level of trust is established, I would listen to the women attentively. It is necessary to evaluate the level and seriousness of emotional upheaval. Then, I will ask questions that are related to her condition, but I will avoid too traumatic or personal inquiries. Finally, I will help the woman to focus on the need to go away from the street. The front-line personnel should be waiting somewhere close in case of her resistance. Still, I believe that she will follow me, and I will transport her to the mental health center. The task of the rest of front-line personnel is to monitor the traffic and turn it into the usual flow.
James, R., & Gilliland, B. (2012). Crisis Intervention Strategies. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.
Sullivan, L., Rosen, M., Schulz, D., & Haberfeld, M. (2004). Encyclopedia of Law Enforcement. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.
Watson, A., & Fulambarker, A. (2012). The Crisis Intervention Team Model of Police Response to Mental Health Crises: A Primer for Mental Health Practitioners. Best Practices in Mental Health, 8(2), 71-76.