In recent years, the division created a Mobile Crisis Response Unit, pairing officers with trained social workers to respond to calls.
COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Columbus Division of Police is responding to a mounting number of mental health-related calls. It’s been a steady increase for at least the last five years.
Getting people transported to the help they need is a responsibility falling more on police officers. And that’s why officers go through specific crisis intervention training.
In some cases, as well, social workers from Columbus Public Health respond alongside officers.
Police are responding to mental health calls daily and there’s a lot that happens during these calls. They are complicated.
For example, there’s a case from March of a 19-year-old Columbus man that resulted in an investigation.
Columbus Police body camera video from an incident on March 9 showed officers responding to a call to assist Netcare Access – a mental health and substance abuse crisis intervention and assessment service.
Officers arrived and relayed there was no one in the parking lot. The Netcare workers then met the officers and explained he’s likely having a psychotic break and made threats to hurt them. They said they were there on what’s called a “pink slip” to take the man to the hospital for a mandatory health evaluation. They called Columbus police for help.
Officers explained they’ve contacted a Crisis Intervention Trained officer and he’s nine minutes away.
Then the man walked out into the parking lot and it appears he tried to get into a car. Officers explained they need to check him.
“I’m just making sure everyone is safe,” one officer said.
The officers explained they are here to help.
“You’re taking affirmative action,” said the subject. “You’re taking affirmative action,” he said again.
“You’re causing us to believe you’re going to fight with us,” said an officer. “We don’t want to take this to the ground but that’s the next place it’s going to go.”
The subject said next, “from this angle I will disrespect you” and he fell to the ground.
That’s when you can see him start to kick and officers as they tried to get him under control. They placed him in handcuffs.
Eventually, they made their way back up to standing and the subject threw his head at an officer.
“You just smashed your head into my head,” said an officer.
At this point, sergeant Matt Harris has arrived on the scene. He oversees the CPD Crisis Intervention Training.
The man was arrested and charged with felonious assault. He was taken to jail and according to the case report, he was refused there and was transported to OSU Wexner Medical Center. The man’s mother reached out to 10TV and notified us of the case. She has since not responded to our request for an interview but told us her son has bipolar disorder and he was in the hospital for a month after this incident.
According to the Franklin County Prosecutor’s Office, an investigation remains underway. Columbus Police said they cannot talk about the specifics of this case, as it is an active investigation.
It’s one example of the thousands of mental health calls police respond to every year.
According to Columbus police records, there were 17,686 mental health-related calls for service in 2017. That increased to 22,388 in 2020.
In 2018, the Mobile Crisis Response Unit was created, a team of six officers paired with trained mental health clinicians to respond to 911 calls for a mental health crisis.
In 2020 MCR units responded to more than 7% of mental health-related calls (7.4%).
Crisis Intervention trained officers responded to more than 61% of those calls (61.85%).
Netcare Access CEO Brian Stroh said the goal is not to stigmatize or criminalize mental illness.
“We have seen dramatic reductions in who ends up in jail and why,” he said, as more officers go through crisis intervention training. “So I think that’s a huge win and I also think that families have less resonance to call first responders and say ‘hey I need help for or with my loved one when they know there are very good odds that that person is going to get the help they need rather than simply go to jail.”
10TV was invited to sit in on the latest Crisis Intervention Training – to see how officers train and prepare for mental health-related calls. All graduates of the Police Academy are required to complete this training. It’s 40 hours long and runs one full workweek. We were there for the final day during live scenarios.
Netcare social workers act out real scenarios from cases they’ve responded to before. Officers respond with very little information provided beforehand.
In one scenario an actor yelled: “oh there they are fornicating!”
Officers asked her to come down from an imaginary ladder to talk with them.
The actor had been looking into her neighbor’s windows. Officers eventually were able to convince her to go with them to go to the hospital to get checked out.
In another scenario, an actor is panicking about Tax Day.
“Tax day. That’s the big day. Everything is going to hit at once,” the actor said.
At the end of each scenario, they go over what worked and what could have been done differently.
“What we’re trying to teach is patience and the ability to go with the flow,” said Sgt. Harris. “Our goal is to get people treatment for the illness their experiencing for that crisis situation that we’re in the midst of. And arrest is only utilized if we absolutely have to.”
Although he couldn’t speak about the March 9 case specifically, Sgt. Harris explained what happens after situations that end in an arrest or use of force.
“Anytime there’s a scenario we respond to that doesn’t go great we always talk to each other. And we talk pretty extensively about these situations and we dive in pretty deep to figure out whether we could have done something better or potentially whether whatever happened was simply unavoidable.”
He said even with Crisis Intervention Training and the Mobile Crisis Response unit, the need for mental health resources exceeds what they have.
“We’re at an age where resources are very limited. Staffing’s limited. But we do the best we can with what we have,” he said. “In a perfect world, yes, if we had more mobile crisis teams then we could handle more crisis scenarios.”
If you or someone you know needs mental health help – there is another number besides 911 you can call.
According to Netcare, 988 covers suicide prevention and more, but it will not be activated until July. In the meantime, Netcare offers a local crisis number at 614-276-2273 for all Franklin County residents or people can use their chat feature on their website here.
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