Forest Grove is a city of around 22,000 in the US state of Oregon and the police log from the last couple days of June, 2016, and the start of July, illustrates why training on mental health skills and services is so important for police officers: because they’re essentially dealing with mental health issues, from delusional episodes to substance use problems to people who struggle to handle their emotions.
You can read through the log here: http://www.oregonlive.com/forest-grove/index.ssf/2016/07/forest_grove_police_log_woman_5.html
You’ve got an intoxicated woman throwing things at cars because nobody would help her pick up the pork chops she dropped. There’s a guy lying in the middle of the street hearing “strange things”. In another street, there’s a woman just rolling around. There’s a woman lighting her hair on fire. A call about a domestic disturbance between a couple turns out to be one woman arguing with herself. There’s people picking fights over hamburgers, there’s road rage.
But are these police officers prepared to help people struggling with their mental health? Will they help those people connect with services or resources? Do they know anything about mental health and recovery? Are they even aware that they are probably the first point of contact for that person in their moment of distress?
It’s difficult to tell from the log but the very last entry might speak to how prepared these officers are to help people. After responding to a call and finding a woman that struggled to make coherent statements about who she was and why she called, the officers suspected “she might be having a mental health episode and advised her to get some sleep.”
I’m a huge fan of the mental health benefits of sleep, but is that really going to help somebody in crisis? Unfortunately, it’ll probably just push the problems on to somebody else to deal with as they get worse, maybe to somebody in the healthcare system or another shift of officers on a different night.
So what can a police blotter from Forest Grove, Oregon tell us about mental health skills training for the police? That it needs to happen. Police officers are going to be the first point of contact for many people struggling with their mental health. Mental health issues comprise a significant percentage of calls to which the police respond.
Are the officers in your city prepared to be the first point of contact when somebody is in crisis or working their way up to one?