By Brett Gillin
In their quest to make the police force more efficient, the Baltimore Police Department is proposing a new way of helping to deescalate certain situations. The idea: To form 18 two-person teams, consisting of one police officer and one mental health professional, to help respond to any emergency calls in which there is a level of mental illness or instability suspected. Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts is proposing the plan, which is he hopes to have in place next year.
“Having an officer and a clinician in a car, that’s a big thing,” Commissioner Batts told Baltimore’s House delegation last week, according to this article in the Baltimore Sun. Batts’ plan is to help transform the Baltimore Police Department into a more progressive one. He wants the department to step up their efforts to address social, economic, and health issues that are behind crime while they are fighting it.
The idea of pairing mental health professionals with police officers is not a totally new one. In one of Batts’ former jobs, as Chief of the Long Beach California Police Department, he was able to observe the effectiveness of such a plan. The Long Beach Police Department has had a Mental Health Evaluation Team in place for over 12 years.
Batts wants his 18 teams to be split evenly among the city’s nine police districts, with half of them working the day shift and the other half covering the night shift. These teams would be dispatched when police are dealing with the homeless, people who are suspected of being suicidal, and those who are thought to have mental health issues at the time of the complaint.
The proposal is getting support from state Sen. Shirley Nathan-Pulliam, who has officially introduced a bill that would put the plan into place by June 1, 2016. Sen. Nathan-Pulliam’s plan does not spell out how the department will fund the initiative, however.
The Baltimore Sun article points out that the initiative might actually pay for itself, at least in part, if you take into account the amount of money that the Baltimore Police Department has spent combatting allegations of excessive use of force. According to an investigation by The Baltimore Sun, the department has shelled out about $5.7 million in judgments and settlements of misconduct cases in the last four years alone. To help stop this trend, Batts has also requested that the U.S. Justice Department review the Baltimore PD’s policies and practices.
After meeting with President Obama’s task force to address police-community relations, Batts also made several other statements on what he feels would continue to improve how police departments interact with their communities. In addition to his pairing of mental health professionals with police officers, Batts would like to see officers go to schools to teach students about the law and law enforcement. Batts feels this would help officers play a bigger role in mentoring young people and improve the way the department is seen throughout the community.