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Study: Seattle Police Overwhelmingly Support Partnerships With Mental Health Professionals

Erin Hennessey

Every time a cop goes out on a call, chances are good that the encounter will be with someone suffering from mental illness. It’s the reason the Seattle Police Department has trained officers in crisis intervention and teamed them up with mental health professionals.Last year, according to reports, Seattle police logged 10,000 incidents involving contacts with people who were mentally ill or in what the department calls “behavioral crisis.” Seattle University criminal justice professor Jacqueline Helfgott, who has studied the Seattle Police Department's crisis intervention strategies, says the encounters could be with someone on drugs or suffering from paranoia who keeps calling 911.

“You know, those people can be triaged to the mental health professional, who can go and follow up with them and find out what exactly is going on with this person and how can we best deal with their needs,” said Helfgott, whose research on Seattle's crisis response pilot project is in the International Journal of Law & Psychiatry, January-February 2016 edition.

Utilizing crisis intervention teams that include mental health professionals is part of federally mandated reform in Seattle. The Seattle Police Department has been under a court order since 2011 when the Justice Department found evidence the department engaged in biased policing and excessive use of force.

As for how cops on the beat see the new emphasis on mental health awareness, in a recent study professor Helfgott found that 70 percent of the police views the use of crisis intervention teams favorably.

However, she says some officers expressed concern that too many people view it as a magic solution. Some officers said, even with the best of intentions, things will sometimes get violent and turn out badly.

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