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APD, UNM praised for response to the mentally ill

A teamwork initiative between the Albuquerque Police Department and psychiatrists from the University of New Mexico has caught the attention of law enforcement agencies around the state and across the country.

bright spotThe June issue of the prestigious American Journal of Psychiatry included an article about how the APD’s Crisis Intervention Team and the UNM Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences are working together. The goal is to help police officers better understand how to work with mentally ill people so they can de-escalate stressful situations, avoid sending them to jail and connect them with supportive services.

“I think the fact that the American Journal of Psychiatry took this (article) really talks about the importance that the American Psychiatric Association gives to the collaboration between law enforcement and psychiatry,” said Dr. Mauricio Tohen, professor and chairman of the UNM School of Medicine’s Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences department.

Representatives from APD and UNM will soon be taking that message to two high-level law enforcement conferences. They will be giving presentations and talks at the International Crisis Intervention Team Conference in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in August and the International Association of Chiefs of Police conference in Philadelphia, Pa., in October.

The Crisis Intervention Team Knowledge Network ECHO, funded by a three-year $250,000 grant through the Department of Justice, aims to give officers alternatives to sending mentally ill people to jail by connecting them directly with UNM psychiatrists who can recommend treatment or appropriate services. An additional component provides training, and enables individual officers and law enforcement agencies from anywhere in the country to connect by phone, computer or laptop to participate in free weekly video conferences with behavioral health experts. They cover topics like bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and anxiety disorders. Officers can also discuss complex cases and seek advice.

For example, a conference in late June drew participation from nine different agencies, including Albuquerque, Rio Rancho and Las Cruces police departments, U.S. Probation and Parole, Middlesex Sheriff’s Office in Cambridge, Mass., and Wicomico County Health Department in Salisbury, Md.

Dr. Nils Rosenbaum

Crisis intervention training for law enforcement officers has been around for many years, but the closeness of the collaboration between APD and the UNM Psychiatry Department has enabled the departments to understand and trust each other better, said psychiatrist Dr. Nils Rosenbaum, medical director of the APD Behavioral Health Division.

“We are becoming recognized leaders in this country,” Rosenbaum said.

Prior to 2014, when the initiative started, APD’s crisis intervention team had two detectives and a part-time psychiatrist. Now, the team will soon have 12 detectives and Rosenbaum is a full-time employee. Either Rosenbaum or a UNM psychiatrist is on 24-hour call to provide support to officers.

Matthew Tinney

“We are lucky to have a psychiatrist – to be able to communicate with him to ask how better to serve the mentally ill population. Jail is not the place to send them,” said Detective Matthew Tinney of the APD crisis intervention unit.

The video-conferencing training, which started in 2016, is modeled on Project ECHO (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes), a telehealth network started by UNM in 2003 to assist rural physicians.