Monroe County law enforcement agencies push to improve mental health call responses

Charles Molineaux
Updated: January 18, 2021 11:11 PM
Created: January 18, 2021 10:38 PM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — Law enforcement agencies across Monroe County are launching a new push to get better able to handle mental health calls.

Police handling of incidents like the one that resulted in the death of Daniel Prude last year has put their methods in mental health cases under scrutiny.

“Something we are not really trained or prepared for,” sighed former Greece Police Chief Patrick Phelan, now Executive Director of the New York Association of Police Chiefs. “We’re just thrown into those situations and we do the best that we can.”

Phelan says incidents like last year's death of Daniel Prude in Rochester during a police mental health call, or the stabbing of Rochester policeman Denny Wright who was responding to an agitated domestic case, show some of the challenges police face in crisis calls.

"As a society, we need to be better at providing services for people with mental health issues. What we are doing isn't working,” he said.  

On Tuesday the Monroe County Law Enforcement Council planned to unveil a plan to get all 1,200 members of law enforcement in all the county's agencies "Crisis Intervention Team” training (CIT) which teaches police about how to handle those in mental health crisis, what to say, what not to say, and what help they can refer people to.

"Job-related things, financial related things, and, in the last year, we are seeing pandemic right things they caused people to go into crisis,” explained Irondequoit Police Chief Alan Laird.

Laird says CIT training produces dramatic results among the member of his force who've had it.

"They always say 'That was a great statement. How did you get to that point? How did you make that connection?' And it always goes back to the CIT training," Laird said.

The standard model for CIT training calls for 20% of an agency's police to have that skill when they go out in the field. 

In his days as chief, Phelan took his force from 4% to 50% of Greece’s police trained and he says having that expertise brought a “dramatic” drop in the departments uses of force in mental health crisis cases, and that calling for 100% sounds better still.

Laird says police aren’t mental health professionals but they need the preparation because end up being the ones on the scene regardless.

“When people aren’t sure who to call and they end up calling 911, and they get a police officer,” he said.  

Phelan said he suspects much of the public has no idea the sheer volume of police calls that are mental health crisis calls.

"When I tell people that number, 1,000 mental health arrest just in one year, their jaw usually drops. I don’t think they realize the number of times a day were doing this,” Phelan said.

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