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Law enforcement agencies across the Peninsula deal with people who have mental illness.
But how do officers or deputies know how to handle these individuals and what does general procedure dictate?
WYDaily reached out to multiple departments including the Williamsburg, James City County and Newport News Police Departments as well as the York-Poquoson Sheriff’s Office.
In Williamsburg, 23 out of 40 sworn officers are trained in Crisis Intervention Team, a 40-hour training course specifically geared toward educating officers about how to deal with people who have mental illness.
“We often respond to calls for service which include a person with mental illness,” Charles Ericsson, spokesman for the department, wrote in an email. “Sometimes it is a person in crisis who calls for help, sometimes a friend/family member will contact us with a concern and ask us to do a welfare check on an individual.”
“Our main objective when dealing with people suffering with mental illness is to get the person help, and let them know that we are there to assist them in any way we can.”
Ericsson said typically two officers are dispatched if the call involves a mental health crisis — the responding officers have to determine whether or not the person is a danger to themselves or a danger to someone else.
If available, an officer trained in crisis intervention responds.
“Normally they are seeking help,” Ericsson said, adding police officers can give the person a ride to the emergency room, in this case the Crisis Intervention Team Assessment Center out of Riverside Doctor’s hospital, which has a 24/7 mental health counselor available.
The officers leave the person at the emergency room and follow up is handled by the Colonial Behavior Health, Ericsson said.
Sometimes the police department is tasked with checking up on the person if that person have not “followed through” on their treatment plan.
“We also have some individuals who we are familiar with and we check in with them when we see them out around town,” Ericsson added.
Besides encouraging to see a mental health counselor or giving someone a ride to the CITAC, another option is putting the mentally ill person under an Emergency Custody Order, forcibly taking the individual to a mental health counselor.
In order to do that, officers must have probable cause. For example, if the mentally ill person is actively trying to commit suicide or has verbalized her or she has suicidal or homicidal thoughts, Ericsson noted.
“We really strongly advice them they are not in trouble, they haven’t done anything wrong,” he said regarding emergency custody orders. “We just think they need to get some help.”
James City County
The James City County Police Department said when it comes to responding to emergency calls involving a mentally ill person, the officers respond as any other calls for service.
“If it becomes apparent that mental illness is a factor, the officer will seek additional resources if needed, depending on the circumstances,” Stephanie Williams, spokeswoman for the department, wrote in an email.
Williams said many of the officers have received specialized training in dealing with “mentally ill folks” and if the officer believes the individual is a danger to themselves or others, the officer would contact a pre-screener with Colonial Behavior Health.
Lt. Jeff Kerr, York-Poquoson Sheriff Office’s CITAC liaison, was not immediately available for comment, but the YPSO sent WYDaily a copy of the office’s mental health response policy effective December 2018.
According to the policy, deputies respond to emergency calls and if a CIT is available, the officer with such training will be dispatched to calls involving mental health.
The primary goals of the CIT program range from providing an immediate response by trained deputies and linking people with mental illness to appropriate care to reducing physical confrontations and use of force. See the full policy here.
The YPSO also works with Colonial Behavioral Health.
A representative from the Newport News Police Department was unavailable to comment for this story.
Editor’s note 2: This is the first installment in a three-part series looking at mental health.