The Los Angeles Police Protective League has thrown its support behind a national push for federal funding and other resources to help officers better prepare for interactions with people who are mentally ill. The L.A. police union is one of more than a dozen police unions nationwide that are calling on the federal government to pay for crisis-intervention training, less-lethal devices, and officers who team up with mental health professionals to respond to emergency calls. Teaching police how to appropriately respond to someone who has mental health issues is nothing new; agencies have offered this type of training for years. However, interactions with mentally ill people by the police have drawn renewed attention in recent years, particularly after several high profile police shootings of people who were diagnosed with mental illnesses. Jamie McBride, one of the LAPD union’s directors, stated:
This is an issue that’s not going away. We have to deal with it. Enough is enough. I think once anybody hears this, they’re going to look at this like this is a no-brainer. It’s something that’s needed. It’s not going to be the fix-all, but it’s going to be a step in the right direction.
Officers frequently describe feeling pressured to act not just as a police officer, but also as a therapist or social worker when responding to such calls, which is a difficult task if the encounter is volatile. The coalition hopes that federal involvement will standardize mental health training for officers across the country and help departments create teams that pair police and mental health clinicians that respond to people who are in crisis. The unions are also calling to modify federal law that keeps certain medical information private, so that officers responding to a call would know if the subject had any prior mental health-related issues. Currently, LAPD officers receive only 15 hours of training specific to mental health while in the academy, but are in the process of providing 40 additional hours of training to officers. Knowing how to deal with mentally ill people is a very important thing for officers to be properly trained in and hopefully the federal government does standardize training for this issue.