The topic of mental illness in day-to-day Police work has been gaining more and more attention. Mental illness can present in a wide variety of ways, many of which often involve disorderly, self-injurious, and sometimes criminal behavior or victimization that results in Police response. According to one estimate (Deane et. al 1999) 7% of police contacts in jurisdictions with 100,000 or more people involve the mentally ill. Worcester’s incident data falls right in line with that estimate with 7% of annual incidents involving someone who has been issued one or more Section 12 restraint prior to the date of the incident. That translates to, on average, about 6 Police interactions in the City each day that involve someone with a known mental health history.
While we know that most mentally ill persons are not violent, there are some mental illnesses which with certain co-occurring conditions are at an elevated risk for potential violent behavior. It is important to understand what those risk factors are, and it’s critical for Officers to be well-trained in best practices on how to de-escalate incidents involving the mentally ill.
As analysts we ought to assist in identifying this high-risk subset of the population and provide Police with the information they need to intercede preventatively. The HUB, an international collaborative model for risk-driven intervention, has outlined the risk factors most commonly observed in the violent mentally ill. Many of the risk factors are details that most analysts can garner and assemble right from the data available in their RMS… things like past violent behavior, homelessness, evidence of self-medicating (section 35 or overdoses), history of running away, past suicide attempts… Analysts who are savvy in query writing can become instrumental in quickly identifying high-risk individuals who might qualify for and benefit from intervention. Having this information can also be helpful in harnessing available funding for initiatives such as the development of Crisis Intervention Teams, a model which brings together “law enforcement, mental health providers, hospital emergency departments and individuals with mental illness and their families to improve responses to people in crisis” (NAMI 2018).