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Cleveland police and the mentally ill: New guidelines would fill holes in current policy

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Proposed policies that would dictate how Cleveland police officers deal with people in mental health crisis are a significant departure from the department’s current guidelines.

The proposed policies include several changes that have already taken place but were never memorialized in writing, officials said. While giving police a lot of latitude, the policies also lay out clear steps officers would have to take when dealing with a person who suffers from mental illness.

The new policies were unveiled Monday. They are mandated in a settlement the city reached with the U.S. Justice Department to address constitutional policing.

Officials said the goal is to reduce the number of people in jail with mental health issues and to steer them toward the help they need. It also seeks to minimize the use of force in situations that do not call for it.

Read more: Cleveland police monitor unveils proposed crisis intervention policies

More training and a mandate that officers try to de-escalate dangerous situations are part of a proposal by the Cleveland police monitor to change the way officers respond to mental health emergencies.

The monitoring team will accept feedback for the next few weeks and will attend two public meetings in December to discuss the new policies.

In advance of the meeting, the Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board of Cuyahoga County drafted a document comparing the old and new policies. Below are a few key differences:

On the Crisis Intervention Team:

Old policy: Officers for the Crisis Intervention Team were selected “at large,” with no monitoring or feedback.

New policy: The Crisis Intervention Team is made up of officers who volunteer to participate. The officers must have worked Cleveland police for at least three years. The officers must show a willingness to participate.

It also spells out roles and responsibilities of the specialized officers.

On collaborating with outside groups

Old policy: There was no specific mention of community groups or ways to talk to outside groups about working with the mentally ill.

New policy: The Mental Health Response Advisory Committee, made up of people from various corners of the criminal justice system, behavioral health advisers, hospital personnel and other communities, was formed to support officers’ crisis intervention.

What the crisis intervention officers can do:

Old policy: The Crisis Intervention Team officers only had “general statements about getting the crisis under control” as a policy to de-escalate and calm a situation, according to the ADAMHS Board.

New policy: The officers are to try a number of tactics before using force. This includes listening to the individual, keeping a distance, requesting assistance from the Mobile Crisis Team and talking to family members and loved ones and taking their advice.

Diversion and transporting mentally ill individuals

Old policy: The old policy has no specific language that tells officers how to transport a mentally ill individual.

New policy: Officers will assess and determine the next step to help a person receive car if they’re suffering through a mental health crisis. They must consider whether they have a legal obligation to arrest a person or whether it’s more appropriate to take them to a hospital or treatment facility.

On Crisis Intervention Team training:

Old policy: There was no information or reference to any training.

New policy: The specialized officers attend 40 hours of enhanced training on how to conduct field evaluations, suicide interventions and certain mental health diagnose. All officers will also undergo at least eight hours on training annually.

On using force and handcuffing a person with a mental illness

Old policy: There was no specific language on using force or handcuffing individuals in crisis.

New policy: Officers should use force when it is necessary and proportional to the resistance or present threat. Officers may handcuff people they are taking into custody, even if it is just to take a person to a psychiatric evaluation.

On dealing with juveniles

Old policy: There was no specific language on how to work with people under 18 years old.

New policy: Specialized crisis intervention officers will deal with juveniles in an “age appropriate manner.” The police department will work with an outside social-work company so juveniles in crisis can be transported to emergency rooms that deal with younger people.

By Eric Heisig, cleveland.com
on November 29, 2016 at 12:25 PM, updated November 30, 2016 at 9:43 AM

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