Northville police officers complete mental health crisis training programs
Police departments in both Northville Township and the City of Northville have taken steps to ensure the most effective response to crisis situations involving substance abuse or mental health issues.
Northville Township Police Chief Paul Tennies said mental illness has become a common focus for law enforcement, with some departments estimating that as many as 20 percent of calls for service are related to mental health incidents. Northville Township responds to several hundred behavioral health incidents a year, Tennies said.
In Northville Township, police department personnel completed the requirements for the One Mind Campaign, an initiative by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), which improves the department response to calls involving those suffering from mental illness in the community.
Northville Township is the only police department in Wayne County to receive this special designation and the sixth in Michigan to earn the designation and completed the training in 24 months.
Northville also helped launch the Mobile Crisis Co-Response Program last year with Hegira Health Inc. of Livonia. This community resource pairs law enforcement officers and mental health professionals to assist individuals in crisis. When an officer responds to a situation with a person exhibiting behavioral needs, mental health experts from Hegira help officers deliver intervention and stabilization resources to the person in need. It also provides an enhanced level of service to the community and is now a model for neighboring communities, officials said.
Northville Township Community Service Ofc. Andrew Domzalski was recently named 2020 Officer of the Year by the Detroit-Wayne County Crisis Intervention Team (CIT). Domzalski trains first responders across Michigan how to interact with individuals experiencing a mental health crisis.
“We wanted to be proactive and the One Mind initiative fell in line with our organization's goal to enhance positive outcomes on our behavioral response calls,” Tennies said. “We are honored to be a part of this important program.”
Two officers, from a force of 13 in the City of Northville, have also taken formal training effective techniques for intervention in situations where substance abuse or mental health plays a role. Both Wayne County and Oakland County offer 40-hour training for officers that help them identify the cause of incidents, de-escalate the crisis, become effective at crisis resolution, and determine when the perpetrator should be taken to a community-based mental health facility rather than be arrested and taken to jail.
The program also promotes safety of both the officer and the individual in crisis. The Crisis Intervention Team website states that the course helps officers become better equipped to understand common signs and symptoms of mental illnesses and co-occurring disorders; recognize when those signs and symptoms represent a crisis situation; safely de-escalate individuals experiencing behavioral health crises; and use community resources and diversion strategies to provide assistance.
The programs are community-based - involving police, health care professionals and local organizations. The primary goal is to keep people with mental illness out of jail and in treatment - optimally on the road to recovery. One of those organizations is COPE, like Hegira, which offers a drug rehabilitation program and recovery coaching, among other services.
“Instead of taking them straight to the hospital, where they may not get the comprehensive evaluation they need, programs such as COPE look at the person on a one-to-one basis and find out what issues they are having,” said Northville Police Ofc. Melissa Vernon, who completed training in Wayne County.
“A significant percentage of our calls for service involve persons suffering from mental illness or addiction issues,” said Northville Police Chief Alan Maciag. “This training prepares our officers to identify, de-escalate and provide assistance to those who are in need. The last thing we want to do is take someone to jail who is in need of treatment. My goal is to have every member of the department trained in crisis intervention.”
Northville Ofc. Erin Larkin, who attended the training in Oakland County in 2020, learned how to implement new techniques in the (virtual) classroom through role-playing various scenarios. She was trained to identify visual and verbal cues to assess whether an individual was experiencing a mental health crisis.
The training enabled Vernon to improve her verbal de-escalation skills, she said.
“You go on their level. You could say, 'I see that you're upset. Why are you upset? What can I do to help you?'”
In a time of crisis, Larkin recommends that family or friends of an individual with a mental health issue or addiction learn what medication the person took and where they have received treatment in the past. That family member or friend may have to interact with police if the person in crisis is unable to articulate the issue.
Larkin also advises that family or friends leave their contact information in an accessible location at the residence of a troubled person to help police get input from them if needed.
“Important take-aways from the training were the reminder that there may be undiagnosed, untreated individuals that are in need of care,” Larkin said. “When that's the case, I can now direct the individuals to resources they may not be aware of.”
“As law enforcement leaders, we know that successful interactions between police officers and those affected by mental illness improves public trust, ensures officer safety and saves lives,” said Tennies.
For more information about the One Mind Campaign, visit https://www.theiacp.org/projects/one-mind-campaign. A list of all agencies who have taken the pledge is available there.
For those in crisis due to mental health issues, call 1-800-950-NAMI or text NAMI to 741741. The national suicide prevention lifeline is 800-273-8255.
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