Factors to Consider for Implementing a Co-Responder Program

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Factors to Consider for Implementing a Co-Responder Program

co-responder program

Experts have been sounding alarm bells about the growing mental health crisis in the U.S. for years. Rates of anxiety and depression are on the rise, and resource for support are often scarce or inaccessible. These factors have created a perfect storm of sorts that can cause troubled individuals to encounter law enforcement when they may be better served by a mental health professional. Unfortunately, the presence of police can exacerbate a mental health crisis — but the emergence of co-response programs aims to mitigate this problem.

Identify the Problems That Call for Co-Response

Co-response programs pair law enforcement with mental health professionals for calls that involve a mental health crisis. Examples of such situations include threats or attempts of suicide, incidents of self-injury, or other volatile behaviors. These situations may result from mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, or schizophrenia. In all of these cases, though, the involvement of law enforcement is unlikely to provide an effective solution. Law enforcement officers are rarely trained in handling the intricacies of mental illness.

Screen and Select Providers

If you think that a co-response program may be beneficial to your community, the next step is to screen and select the best providers for a partnership. There are many different kinds of professionals who can assist in mental health crises, including social workers, psychologists, and counselors. Many programs seek out social workers because they often have a wide breadth of expertise in mental health resources. Police departments can source providers for a co-response program by seeking out those who have experience handling and diffusing mental health crises.

Develop an Integrated Training Program

Training is an essential component in the launch of a co-response program. It’s imperative that both parties in a co-response team — the law enforcement officer and the mental health professional — be trained in collaborative methods and problem-solving. This means that mental health professionals should be trained in the protocol of a law enforcement call response, and police officers should be trained in the effective management of mental health crises. Together, both parties should be trained in effective collaborative strategies for preventing harm in such situations.

Establish Realistic Expectations

In addition to collaborative training, both parties in a co-response program should work together to develop realistic expectations regarding their role in a volatile situation. It’s important to accept that a co-response program may significantly reduce a range of unwanted outcomes, but it cannot fully eliminate them. Mental health crises are a serious issue, and in some cases, they can turn into a violent confrontation. Rather than aim to eliminate all escalations, a co-response program should aim to minimize the unnecessary use of force and other avoidable errors that can harm innocent citizens.

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