Every working law enforcement officer has had to handle an event involving a person with a mental illness. With the closure of many mental health facilities and the reliance on the mentally ill patients to self-medicate in the real world, the handling of the patients suddenly became the responsibility of the first responders.
This defined number of “out patients” is only a part of the larger group that may one day snap and become the next call for service. Other people that contribute to this list would include:
1.) Long-term stimulant abusers,
2.) Persons yet to be diagnosed only because they have not been put into the system, and
3.) Returning soldiers with undiagnosed traumatic brain injuries.
Dealing with EDPs
It is not difficult to foresee that inadequate training in dealing with Emotionally Disturbed Persons (EDPs) could lead to a ruling of deliberate indifference to the civil rights of those being contacted by law enforcement officials.
Is it reasonably foreseeable that every officer in your agency will have to handle a call for service involving an emotionally disturbed person?
If the answer is yes (and I believe the answer for all of us will be yes), then your agency should be training every one of your officers in handling these events.
Mental illness is quickly becoming one of the most-discussed topics in law enforcement training circles. Some courts have given us specific direction on how we should operate when we are in an encounter with an emotionally disturbed person.
Agencies have responded with programs such as Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training. Some basic academies have added the number of hours to their learning domain that teaches dealing with emotionally disturbed persons. Any way you look at it, the training is out there and the industry standard is rising.
The Thin Blue Lifeline
One such trainer that really understands this issue is my good friend Ellis Amdur. Ellis runs Edgework Crisis Intervention Resources PLLC out of Shoreline (Wash.). Ellis is a real practitioner in the world of mental illness; he visits patients in the field. He also has a solid understanding of the way law enforcement operates. I have had a couple of opportunities to see him lecture and his information is highly valuable and his presentation style extremely enjoyable. I highly recommend attending one of his courses if you are able.
Ellis and Chief of Police of Tenino (Wash.) John Hutchings co-wrote a book aimed towards helping law enforcement officers be better prepared to handle incidents involving the mentally ill. When he asked me to review his book I gladly accepted his offer. Although I am not a book reviewer by trade, I will give it a shot.
The title of the book is The Thin Blue Lifeline: Verbal De-escalation of Mentally Ill and Emotionally Disturbed Individuals. It is one book in a series of eight similar books, each specific to a profession. The book and the series are available for purchase at www.edgework.info.
Looking at the Table of Contents, I almost fell over when I saw that there were 67 chapters.
A closer look revealed that the chapters were very short and all very nicely arranged so that similar topics were discussed within the same part of the book. Knowing how busy most of our days are, I thought this to be a brilliant idea as these chapters could be broken down and easily digested in a short amount of time.
Ellis and Chief Hutchings really do get it. They understand that we have a dangerous job and that we will not be able to talk everybody into handcuffs. Nor do they place unrealistic demands upon us and put us into unsafe situations. Indeed, in the preface the book clearly mandates that “it’s about safety.” Ellis and I have spoken on several occasions about this concept. Dealing with the mentally ill sometimes requires a good dosage of defensive tactics and force options.
As I read through the chapters I found the information concise and easy to understand. The book offers bulleted lists to help officers make decisions. I found it very helpful that the book discusses several ways in which an officer can be more effective while increasing his safety. These tactics cover things like breathing, being aware of your emotions, and trusting your instincts.
The authors share their insights and experiences through stories to give the reader context. These stories would be especially helpful to officers who may not have personally experienced one or more of the discussion points.
Unlike other books or seminars I have attended on this topic, this book does not try to train you to diagnose a patient — the authors want you to be able to recognize certain behaviors in individuals and then give you tools to help successfully handle the event.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to increase their performance level in dealing with emotionally disturbed persons. I would also recommend this book:
1.) As part of any promotional examination reading list
2.) As part of an extended team/unit/agency training strategy