By Tammy McCoy-Arballo
Counseling Team International Clinical Psychologist
Well, it is about time.
This needed to happen.
For too long we have required our law enforcement officers to respond to incidents involving people experiencing symptoms of mental illness and not given all of our officers the needed training.
The many law enforcement officers I know are incredibly talented and skilled at a great many things. They have tremendous communication skills and are able to master the moment when they are faced with the unexpected.
However, it is simply unfair to send any of law enforcement officer to those calls without training and education about the aspects of various mental illnesses.
Without proper training, they are, in a very real sense, not fully prepared for what they are about to encounter.
And they are the ones who have to make split-second decisions and live with the outcome, which can be traumatic.
Training is not as widely available as it needs to be, but this shortage will soon be in our past thanks to The 21st Century Cures Act.
While there are a several provisions in this Act, the one I find most interesting is that it provides funding for specialized training for responding to mental-health emergencies.
This is one of the missing pieces from the law enforcement arsenal. How many times have we read about an officer involved shooting where the subject suffered from mental illness?
A number of law enforcement officers I know have been clamoring for this kind of training for years.
Though others are fortunate enough to have departments that provide it, police officers without the proper training have carried this burden for too long, and as a result, law enforcement officers have faced scathing public criticism when they act out of fear for their own lives.
Funding for this training is needed now more so than ever. Law enforcement officials are under intense public scrutiny and recruiting new officers is harder due to the current climate, this training is essential. It is about time they be provided with the tools needed to manage this aspect of their jobs.
People with severe mental illness generate at least one out of 10 calls for police services, according to The Treatment Advocacy Center’s 2015 report. One in three people are taken by police to local hospitals due to psychiatric crisis. One in four fatal police encounters involves people with severe mental illness.
While there are several other worthy provisions included in the 21st Century Cures Act, including the resources for veterans’ courts to assist those experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder, I am particularly delighted that our law enforcement officers will get this set of tools for their tool box.
Not only will people with mental illness benefit from providing law enforcement officers more training, so will our officers — and as a result, our society.
It gives me added hope that times will be changing for the better for the men and women who protect and serve.
Tammy McCoy-Arballo, Psy.D. is a licensed Clinical Psychologist. She is in private practice and works at the Counseling Team International in San Bernardino, CA.