In doing this story on how the D.C. Police Department lacks training in dealing with mentally ill residents, I learned that the “best practices” for this type of training reside in jurisdictions elsewhere.
In fact, the Office of Police Complaints has been lobbying hard for our local cops to visit a little rundown city known for Elvis and Sun Records: Memphis. It may be a town that had its heyday in the ’50s, but its police department was way ahead of the curve on training its officers to respond with empathy and knowledge to mentally ill citizens in crisis. Aside from training all of its officers, they get cops to volunteer for additional training. These cops are the first responders if you will to a scene involving someone in crisis. They’ve had this setup since the late ’80s.
This model has since been replicated all across the country. And yet the D.C. police still believe in simply mass training all of its officers. They argue that all officers should be able to handle these situations and that the city lacks the necessary mental-health facilities to handle the referrals. The city simply isn’t equipped to be the next Memphis.
But one thing that I left out is this: The Memphis model all but assures that cops and citizens alike will not have to resort to use-of-force and this cuts down on injuries. Cops are less likely to hurt themselves. Citizens are less likely to get hurt. At least that’s one of the arguments that various law enforcement types told me.