How police crisis clinicians and LEOs can work together to better serve a community's needs
When social service professionals are properly integrated into departments, they can provide community members with the much-needed services they're seeking
Content provided by VIP Crisis Consultation
A police crisis clinician's job is commonly misunderstood. I can't begin to tell you how many times people think I have an amazing job. Often, it consists of a lot of things no one else wants to do. It's not a glamorous job; typically, it's about working with people at their worst.
With current calls to defund the police and replace officers with social workers, many departments are scrambling to figure out what to do next. It's not realistic to expect social workers to replace officers. However, it seems more than appropriate for departments to incorporate professionals who can better help in situations officers may not be trained to handle. Adding these professionals into the mix can better serve the community.
It is highly unlikely that police will ever be able to completely disengage from mental health, social services and crisis calls for service. To better service the community, collaboration is key.
Bringing social services into police departments
It has been rather uncommon for police departments to incorporate outside professionals like mental health clinicians and social workers. However, times are changing. When social service professionals are properly integrated into police departments, they can provide community members with the much-needed services they are seeking. However, many residents instead rely on officers, who may not be trained or equipped to handle social service needs.
This gap in services can lead to a band-aid approach, which creates an illusion of change and hope; however, it only masks the problem temporarily.
With properly trained mental health clinicians and social workers, police departments will be able to address community needs and build stronger relationship with residents. And the benefits are not exclusive to residents being served; the department gains as well.
Let me share a story about my experiences as a police crisis clinician. This story will give you a peek of how a clinician can help.
A glimpse into how police crisis clinicians can help
Most of us drive over bridges nearly daily or weekly. Envision a bridge: What comes to mind?
- Most people respond: A bridge
- Some therapists/social workers: A potential
- Police: I remember trying my hardest to get that person not to jump or I got that person to see the potential in their life and they did not jump.
So, here is some background information.
I got a call at 4:50 a.m. from dispatch. There was a request for my assistance with a jumper, who would only talk to women. However, it did not seem the female officer on scene was making much progress.
Me to myself: "OK, let me get myself together. Let me get down there and show my skills." But I was scared as hell; I didn't want to be the reason why someone died. I took deep breaths as I arrived on scene. The bridge, which is not little, is closed. Once I arrive on scene, I get briefed on what had been happening in the last hour. I go over to try to help the female officer, who is trying to get the jumper down.
As I approach, the jumper asks, "Who are you?" I respond with, "I am like a social worker."
I am really a therapist, but social worker is a more widely accepted term, so that is what I use. I try to build communication with the jumper when I hear: "I don't NEED a social worker!"
I try again to establish communication, but all I get is pure silence. The female officer and a suicide hotline worker fill me in and tell me the jumper had a bad experience with social workers. I then proceed to exit stage right. Yes, I leave the immediate area. I want the jumper to live and it looks like I am not going to be the person to get her to do that.
Yes, I know. I say to myself, "I know what I am doing in this case; the rookie young cop is not an expert to handle the client like I am!" But when I think about it, I have no option but to respect whoever saves a life. As a clinician who loves my work, I realize sometimes I am not the best person for the situation, but that does not mean I can't help.
Back to the situation: I go back to where all the male paramedics and police who are standing away from the jumper and observe. Then I start on all the background jazz. I try to speak with a sergeant and go with them to an address with hope of finding family, but it didn’t work out. I come back to the scene and there’s still no progress. However, the person now looks like they are trying to figure out how to jump and die.
At the time, a helicopter is circling above, which appears to be enticing and making the jumper move out more to jump. I ask to get the helicopter out of the way; an audience seems to be provoking a “show.”
Finally, we try to get a catch tarp sent from a larger municipality and we start to make other tentative plans. Slowly but surely, the jumper starts moving back to a safe position and then slowly in a range of safe areas. I watch as the jumper goes back to a non-dangerous position. The jumper collapses to the sidewalk and gets loaded into an ambulance and transported to a local hospital.
A need for more specialized services
After the jumper is safe, I begin to focus on the female officer who primarily dealt with the jumper. I approach the officer, who turns around with a black mark across her forehead, and all I see are red eyes and tears. She looks overwhelmed and exhausted. She takes the hug offered by a lieutenant from another department.
I asked if she needs a debriefing. It’s shrugged off and someone says, “Her reward is that she (the client) is alive.” Me in my head: “No, it’s not that easy.”
As I watch her wipe away tears with her face mask, she is obviously struggling with processing what just happened. She needed more and I knew it.
In the end, we (as a collaborative) did the best with what we could. As I was in my car heading to the hospital to provide collaborative information to the ER staff, I started tearing up thinking about this female officer and if she had the support she needed. She did the job she was called to do, but how much fear did she have?
In the end, the jumper was saved and all went back to “normal.” It was business as usual and the general public never knew or understood their “inconvenience” on that day was because someone else was having the worst day of their life. For responders, there is no time to ponder what just happened; there is always another call or crisis.
The benefits are worth every penny
It was then that I had an epiphany: I realized I got into the department – from the administration all the way through to its officers – on the need for a collaborative relationship. This department had underutilized available services for years and then I came along.
I met the lieutenant not even 24 hours earlier and remember him saying, "We don't have social workers on our shift. We handle it all." They regretted those words not even 24 hours later.
At this point in my career, I saw the potential for greatness with appropriate integration. I had worked with officers, detectives and administration to better assist the community with their needs on multiple levels. I had gotten an officer friend, who was suicidal, the help they needed and an illegal gun turned over to me. Not to mention, endless numbers of people connected to resources and assistance they needed.
I came to realize that resources like this were not as readily available across the country and, as a result, this is why VIP Crisis Consultation was created.
When social service, mental health and crisis teams/units are working correctly, the benefits can be felt in the community but also within the department. These benefits include helping resolve long-term issues, decreasing call volume, building better working relationships with community residents, decreasing liability and normalizing seeking help.
Believe it or not, there are even more benefits for the department. Many are standoffish at the idea of adding some "psycho-babbling, save-the-world, unicorn-riding" social worker to their team. I can say from personal experience when it is done right, the benefits are absolutely worth every penny.
If your department is considering adding or auditing current services, this is where VIP Crisis Consultation comes in and helps get departments on the right track. Currently, many departments think creating crisis intervention/social service services is simple. However, these types of services require a special touch to ensure services are integrated smoothly, and a seamless and collaborative relationship is formed and maintained properly.