Cleveland Police Monitor Unveils Proposed Crisis Intervention Policies

By Eric Heisig, Cleveland Plain Dealer (Nov. 28, 2016)

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- The Cleveland police monitor on Monday unveiled new policies designed to dictate how officers respond to mental health emergencies, in response to a Justice Department investigation that called for better training in the handling of residents in crisis.

The new policies, presented to the public in a draft form, are designed to give officers clear guidance on how to respond to those in a mental health crisis. This includes how to deal with an individual and who to call for additional assistance.

The policies say officers with specialized training in crisis intervention will be called to many scenes where an individual is having a mental-health issue. Officers on scene must take as many steps as possible to minimize a threat an individual poses before using force, and they must try to get a person help if necessary.

The proposal also says officers must "use discretion to direct individuals in crisis to the health care system, rather than the criminal justice system, in those instances where it is appropriate to do so."

The new policies were mandated in a settlement the Justice Department reached with the city that found many problems with the ways officers interact with individuals.

Like the city's new use-of-force policies, which were recently presented to a federal judge for approval, the new crisis-intervention policies were drafted in response to a number of incidents in which the Justice Department said officers reacted poorly.

They were drafted with help from the Justice Department and the Mental Health Response Advisory Committee.

A judge still must approve the policies.

The new policies say dispatchers shall send a specialized crisis intervention officer. It says such calls take high priority. If a crisis intervention team officer is on a less important call, the officer shall leave and go to the mental health call.

Once there, officers must assess the risk and determine if others are needed. They must also consider factors such as whether drugs and alcohol are involved, any disabilities and whether the person speaks English. If a family member is on scene, they must determine whether the family member can help, the policies say.

The crisis intervention officers must introduce themselves as such and keep the individual informed of all the steps they will take to address the situation. This could be charging them with a crime or taking them to a hospital or facility.

According to the policies, only one officer should speak as to not confuse the individual. The officer must speak in a "slow, calm, non-threatening voice and use non-intimidating body language."

After the individual says what is wrong, the officer must respond by paraphrasing what was just said.

The officer must "demonstrate empathy, concern, and a better understanding of the situation. The officer must repeat instructions in a simple way, the policies state.

In order to de-escalate any threat, the officer can use a variety of tactics, such as waiting until threatening actions have stopped, move slowly, remove "upsetting influence and disruptive citizens from the scene." The officers must take their time and avoid physical confrontations when at all possible.

If officers need to use force, it must be proportion to the level of resistance and reasonable given to all of the circumstances. This includes handcuffing the suspect.

If a person is lying down after being cuffed, the person must be sat or stood up to avoid asphyxiations, the policies state.

"Force is NOT to be used for expediency," the policies say.

The policies also lays out what resources are available to help them and how to transport mentally ill individuals in a variety of situations.

The Mental Health Response Advisory Committee will host two community meetings Dec. 13 to hear feedback. They will be at 1 p.m. at Murtis Taylor Community Center, 13422 Kinsman Road, and at 6 p.m. at Urban Community School, 4909 Lorain Ave.