Previously published in Law Enforcement News (John Jay College of Criminal Justice) xxix, no. 593 (Feb. 14, 2003). Republished with permission.
Lieutenant Michael S. Woody, retired, was the Director of Training for the Akron Police Department. The Akron Police Department received $1.3 million from the federal government to start up this program. Of the 18,500 police departments across the country that have grants, Akron was picked as one of 500 that are being showcased as "Best Use of Funds." Lt. Woody received the national "The Major Sam Cochran Award for Compassion in Law Enforcement" in 2002 and "The Heart of Gold Award" in 2001 from the Mental Health Board of Summit County. He is currently affiliated with the Northeast Ohio Universities College of Medicine in Rootstown, Ohio, and may be reached at email@example.com
This is the ninth article in a series about effectively dealing with mentally ill offenders in the criminal justice system. Justice Evelyn Lundberg Stratton, Supreme Court of Ohio, has had a longtime interest in developing solutions to this problem and has formed the Supreme Court of Ohio Advisory Committee on Mentally Ill in the Courts for that purpose. This article highlights one committee member's experiences in dealing with the mentally ill from his perspective as a law enforcement officer.
How much training have your police officers had in dealing with persons that have mental illness? I suspect that if your agency is like most, the answer is, "Not much"! Yet, did you know that depending on which article you believe, anywhere from 7 to 15% of the calls to which a police officer responds in this country involve someone with a mental illness?
I recently retired after 25 years with the Akron Police Department in Akron, Ohio, a department of about 600 persons including the reserves. After having served in various capacities, I retired as the director of training. This article chronicles my journey to the dutiful mind.
Akron is only 15 miles north of Canton, Ohio, where the term "deliberate indifference" was first used. Without getting into the details of the civil case, the U.S. Supreme Court concluded that inadequacy of police training may serve as a basis for municipal liability where failure to train Page 1052 amounts to deliberate indifference for the rights of persons with whom the police come into contact. Accordingly, the Court said that the City of Canton was negligent in failing to train their police officers in first aid on a regular basis because the probability of needing to use first aid in police work was so high.
As the person responsible for monitoring training issues for my department, a little over three years ago I realized through reading articles and talking to people in the mental health profession that roughly 10% of our customers were not only mentally ill but also in crisis. It was my opinion that our department lacked sufficient training in this area. At the same time, the State of Ohio Police Officer Training Council reduced the requirements to teach recruits how to deal with persons in mental crisis to 2 hours of training regarding handling the mentally ill and the mentally retarded. Providing equal time for both subjects, recruits receive one hour of training to equip them to deal with about 10% of the problems they will encounter on the streets.
With the help of our Alcohol, Drug & Mental Health Board (ADM), I immersed myself in this subject with the idea of providing officers the absolute best comprehensive training in handling these potentially dangerous calls. The ADM Board asked me...