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Saving lives using social media (Part 1)

The members of the Real Time Crisis Hub have staged over 80 interventions and only 2 of those have needed additional police assistance

This is the first of a two-part series written by the members of the Real Time Crisis Hub, made up of law enforcement, health care and education professionals that are actively seeking those in need of help through social media sites and directing them to a safe online community where they can consistently be aided - reducing the number of emergency calls needing police and other first responders. This confidential and private community then becomes a first point of contact for those in need of help. 

By Jse Cse Lam

Suicide is the leading cause of death in the United States.

In a modern world, police, nurses, social workers, and education professionals can save lives using social media tools, while at the same time reducing calls for service to police and reducing emergency wait room times. We as law enforcement, health care and education professionals can assist people to be successful and safe who otherwise could become a tragic statistic.

Lived Experiences RTCH committee member Andrew Stewart prepares his discussion for the 2013 SMILE conference using a Google Plus Hangout (Photo courtesy Scott Mills)
Lived Experiences RTCH committee member Andrew Stewart prepares his discussion for the 2013 SMILE conference using a Google Plus Hangout (Photo courtesy Scott Mills)

At the SMILE (Social Media and the Internet in Law Enforcement) Conference hosted in Sunnydale, Calif. in February, participants were introduced to a vision to save lives using social media tools by Toronto Police Service Corporate Communications Social Media Officer and Crime Stoppers Social Media Adviser Constable Scott Mills, Street Nurse Anne Marie BattenMeaghan Gray, Toronto Police Service Corporate Communications Issues Manager, and Andrew Stewart, a young man who has experienced mental health issues in real life and in social media, and believes he can make a difference.

The group envisions local and international Real Time Crisis Hubs (known on Twitter as hash tag #RTCH).

In his presentation, Mills addressed the necessity of embracing the tools of social media: “By arming our police, street nurses, social services practitioners and education professionals with a smartphone, and social media tools like Google Plus, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Foursquare, YouTube, and any other sites that people are using, together we can save lives, reduce calls for service to police, ambulance and fire, reduce wait times in emergency rooms and help people who are experiencing mental health issues."

People Are the Key to Success
Since social media strategies have broadened community outreach initiatives and enhanced approaches in crime prevention, RTCH is a natural progression in the use of social media in policing practices.

One of the mandates is to provide the necessary means to address crisis situations without overtaxing limited resources and personnel.

Some of the goals of RTCH include:

1. Delivering help efficiently and effectively

2. Effective first response to crisis situations by capitalizing on the advantages of communicating through social media

3. Establishing trust through communication and relationship building between police and the public

What is RTCH?
RTCH is a center that offers emergency crisis service 24-hours-a-day and gives the police an alternative to taking someone to jail or to the hospital. RTCH staff would triage the needs of an individual in crisis mode and prioritize the next steps:

1. Mental health assessment

2. Crisis intervention, counseling or stabilization

3. Make referrals to appropriate level of care, including outpatient services or hospitalization RTCH’s overarching goal is to offer alternatives that can reduce police involvement, especially when there is a pre-existing mental health condition.

RTCH recognizes the role that technology has in 21st century crisis management techniques. A RTCH crisis response strategy would focus on intervention and prevention, ensuring that the needs of the community are being met and resources are being utilized effectively.

What Drives the Need for a RTCH?
RTCH offers an innovative and progressive way of responding to crisis management and conflict management. The accessibility of social media and its integration into professional practices of many organizations makes it a logical next step in addressing some of the strains that law enforcement agencies must deal with.

 "When people are struggling with situational stressors, mental health crisis, and of particular concern suicidal ideation, they are reaching out on social media. Twitter, Facebook,” said Anne Marie Batten, crisis nurse and early advocate of the program.

Batten has already developed a track record in working with clients in crisis, establishing connections with TPS officers, triaging the urgency, and mitigating a response in a manner that ensures successful and safe intervention.

 “We have been able to intervene via social media and divert calls that would have otherwise required police intervention,” said Batten.

Relationships and working partnerships forged though the RTCH would stream clients with mental health issues towards health care facilities instead of channeling them into the criminal justice system.

Any initiative that helps to foster trusting relationships between law enforcement and social service agencies will assist in ensuring that clients get the help that they need and help facilitate the goal of public safety.

Toronto teacher Jse Cse Lam, Street Nurse Anne Marie Batten, Toronto Police Constable Scott Mills, Toronto Police Corporate Communications Issue Manager Meaghan Gray, Toronto Police Constable Nathan Dayler, Community Volunteers Andrew Stewart, Nadia Fordham & Claire Crossley contributed to this report. 

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