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Indianapolis Metro Police Lead the Way with Behavioral Health Units

Jason Reese

If you pay any attention to the news at all, you already know police respond to many incidents involving people facing mental health challenges. You may not already know that people with mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed by police. Studies show that anywhere from 25-50% of police shootings involve a victim who is mentally ill. The reasons are complex, as are the situations that arise when police engage with those who are agitated and behaving erratically.

Data Informs Decision for the IMPD

While analyzing their arrest and call records, the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department (IMPD) discovered a significant increase in mental health runs, wherein officers were called to assist with a person experiencing mental illness or an acute mental crisis. The IMPD also found numerous repeated calls to the same addresses. Law enforcement professionals in Indianapolis believe up to half of the city’s 50,000 yearly arrests are people who are unlikely to be arrested if not for their mental illness.

As mentioned above, the mentally ill can be at risk if they are engaged by police. If they are successfully detained, they are unlikely to receive effective assistance. Additionally, caring for the mentally ill in jails costs up to $8 million a year in Indiana. In short, the old ways of doing things are not good for anyone.

Armed with data and other evidence, the IMPD has decided to introduce behavioral health units into all six policing districts. The IMPD behavioral health units include a specially trained officer paired with a mental health expert and will serve as the first line of response for many mental health calls received by the department. This approach seeks to provide public protection and community services to those who need it most. Working with individuals experiencing mental illness is complicated and requires extremely intensive and specialized training. Not only must the person be knowledgeable in behavioral and mental health topics, but he or she needs to be confident in the ability to step down volatile situations and find appropriate community resources when necessary.

The average police officer may have limited training in helping the mentally ill but is not usually sufficiently trained to deal with complex mental health crises. To be fair, we would not expect the average officer to have the same level of in-depth knowledge in this area as a professional mental and behavioral health expert. The development of the behavioral health units hopes to create a best of both worlds, where committed officers can be more thoroughly educated in better serving the mentally ill while placing significant trust in mental health experts’ skills, recommendations, and actions when a call comes in.

The IMPD behavior health units are hoped to improve outcomes in mental health runs, including decreases in potential harms to this vulnerable population. We can assume, based on the data, these units may very well save lives. If you know someone who was injured by police while experiencing a mental health crisis, the attorneys at Wagner Reese can help them find justice. Call us today at (888) 204-8440 to discuss your case—the consultation is free and confidential!


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