Nearly half of mentally ill individuals who said they had contact with Phoenix police said the officers actually made the situation worse, according to a city survey.
The survey, conducted by the Phoenix Mayor’s Commission on Disability Issues, questioned 244 individuals with mental-health issues found in Phoenix mental health clinics, residential programs and those who were homeless. Of those, 51 percent had at least one encounter with police and 24 percent had three or more.
The survey found 45 percent of those who reported police contact said the situation deteriorated when police arrived. Another 30 percent said police helped, 19 percent said they helped a lot, and 6 percent said police had no effect, according to the survey.
The responses were completed in September, and the results were made public last week.
The survey was part of a report aimed to shed light on interactions between Phoenix police and those with mental-health issues. The data is city-specific and was collected from fall 2015 to spring 2016.
The results come nearly two years after Phoenix police launched its crisis-intervention team—a squad dedicated strictly to mental-health calls. The department added a second team in September.
The CIT squad was created following the August 2014 death of Michelle Cusseaux, a 50-year-old woman who was shot by Phoenix police responding to a mental-health call.
The survey does not specify whether the individuals surveyed were handled by the CIT team, officers with CIT training or officers without CIT training. Phoenix officers also surveyed for the same report said police often face a series of unknowns when they arrive for a call.
“They know nothing about the individual or his/her history, whether the person is intoxicated and/or has a mental health issue, or if the person has a history of violence,” the report states. “Officers at times feel very overwhelmed.”
Phoenix police Sgt. Jonathan Howard explained there are two different types of mental-health calls for police.
The CIT team and other officers respond to thousands of mental-health pickup orders each year, where police are require to transport an individual to a health-care facility. The vast majority of these calls, he said, go well.
The other type, he said, are routine calls for service. Here, police encounter a high percentage of people in crisis, he said, whether it’s diagnosed or undiagnosed mental illness, substance-induced conduct or other crises.
“So while we do have two squads of certified crisis intervention-trained officers … we still have thousands of officers responding to calls for service every day, working with people in crisis for a variety of reasons,” he said.
There are an additional 500 Phoenix officers trained in the same crisis-intervention techniques as the dedicated squad.
Howard said the survey underscores a notion that both police and mental-health advocates have agreed on for years: Mental health shouldn’t be handled by police.
The report concludes on this note as well.
While both police and individuals with mental-health issues agree police play a significant role in crisis situations, “neither group desires police in that role,” the report states.
“Individuals would rather work with their case managers than police when they are in crisis,” it reads. “However, if individuals pose a threat to themselves or others, police have to be called.”
Both police and the individuals said the issue is improving, but suggest more mobile crisis teams and better mental-health treatment.
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