Probably the worst place for a mentally ill person in crisis to find themselves is inside a jail cell, where job No. 1 is ensuring the enforcement of laws, not the treatment of vulnerable individuals.
The Albuquerque Police Department recognizes that and has partnered with the University of New Mexico’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences to help police officers work with the mentally ill people they encounter, de-escalate stressful situations, avoid sending the person to jail and instead connect them with people and services that can help them now and later.
Crisis intervention training for law enforcement officers has been around for years, but this new collaboration between APD’s Crisis Intervention Team and the UNM Psychiatry Department goes beyond training, though that’s certainly part of the program.
The collaboration not only gives those in crisis a direct link with UNM psychiatrists who can recommend treatment or appropriate services, it allows police departments and individual officers throughout the country to participate in free weekly online video conferences with behavioral health experts. The conferences cover topics like bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and anxiety disorders, and officers can discuss specific cases and seek expert advice.
The program has caught the attention of the prestigious American Journal of Psychiatry, which recently published an article about the APD/UNM program. Kudos to both APD and UNM for pioneering a much-needed approach that is rightfully creating discussions in other police departments and psychiatry schools.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.