LPD training for mental health calls

It seems like we’ve increasingly relied on law enforcement to handle addiction, alcohol, poverty issues, all kinds of things, mental health issues that aren’t appropriate. Well, I shouldn’t say that aren’t appropriate, but it seems like a stupid way in life to handle them. How do we get an education program that gets it back on the radar that prison isn’t the response for addiction and for mental health issues? Is there anything that the City of Littleton can do in that regard?

Littleton Police Chief Doug StephensChief Douglas Stephens: Thank you. I think that’s a question that we’re hearing more and more, again, across the country, and of course, we’re not immune in Littleton. You bring up some very good points. Over time, as society has evolved, and I think we’ve all seen a much greater frequency, at least an awareness of mental health and larger social issues that aren’t traditionally law enforcement responses. We’ve seen an increase in awareness of those things. I think law enforcement has become more and more involved in those things over time because frankly, people don’t know who else to call, right? So when they’re dealing with a situation, whether it’s homelessness or whether it’s someone having a mental health crisis or even anything from… We’ve gone on all kinds of non-criminal type things where people need assistance. You pick up the phone, and you call the number you know to call, right, which usually responds or results in a law enforcement response.

Honestly, we have not been very good in law enforcement in handling those situations because you’re right. We’re not trained in a lot of that stuff professionally to the same level that a social service worker or a mental health professional would be trained. So we’ve identified over the last several years areas where we can do better. One of those areas would be in mental health response. We deal with a lot of folks that are going through some sort of mental health crises. Our traditional law enforcement responses, again, have not been great. We had been trained in a lot of different traditional tactics and things. But over the last several years, I think our profession in general, and specifically here in Littleton, we’ve done a great job of enhancing our training on mental health awareness and response.

A couple of programs specifically for mental health would be we have what we call the crisis intervention teams training, which is not a Littleton thing. It’s a nationwide thing. But it’s a very comprehensive and intense training that every single one of our officers in 911 dispatchers call takers have been trained. It’s a 40-hour heavily scenario based training class taught by professionals on how officers and dispatchers and folks that have contact with the public and can more effectively address and deal with calls where we come in contact with folks experiencing mental health crises. So most departments across the country are struggling to get because it is a very difficult training class and very time-consuming. 25% to 30% of their patrol personnel is a good mark for them. I’m very proud to say that in Littleton, we’ve made this a priority over the last several years, and we have a hundred percent of our personnel, our CIT, Crisis Intervention Team trained and certified, and 100% of our dispatch personnel. So that provides us a little bit of a benefit there.

Another program that we’re currently very proud of is our co-responder program, which is exactly what you’re kind of talking about. Because the police aren’t mental health professionals, and we have a limited number of tools that we can use to handle crisis. Usually, when we handle crises, it’s on a short-term basis, right? We’re not good at long-term solutions. That’s just not what we do well. We’re good at short-term solutions. So we partnered with AllHealth Network, and we have a clinical psychologists and mental health professionals that actually ride along with us in our police cars, and they respond to calls with us. They are able to provide immediate access to services for folks and provide an immediate doorway to those longer-term solutions that ultimately will help maybe reduce the likelihood that the police would have contact with these individuals, again, because they don’t need contact with us and get them the help that they need. So that’s mental health.

There’s a lot of other issues, social issues, you name it. There’s tons of them, and the police go because when at 3:00 AM, who else are you going to call? But I think with what’s happening in America right now with law enforcement and what’s… When they’re taking a good, hard introspective look at the things that we do, and I think that one of the benefits of what’s happening now is identification of other types of calls and responses that aren’t traditionally law enforcement related, where we may be able to make other steps and model the co-responder program maybe with social services type individuals. As far as what the city can do, that’s a conversation that we’re engaged in constantly. I know we have future conversations scheduled to talk with city council about law enforcement and those types of issues. So I think that through involvement from community members and through the council, I think we can come up with some good plans and some good ideas.