Plan to keep the police away from mental health calls

INDIANAPOLIS — The city’s black clergy have called on Indianapolis to stop sending in police when people are experiencing a mental health crisis.

Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Chief Randal Taylor said he agrees officers aren’t always needed for calls related to drug addiction or mental illness.

Even Mayor Joe Hogsett has publicly backed the idea that the city should adopt a so-called clinician-led response to mental health calls, which include those related to homelessness, intoxication or disorientation.

Calls for change intensified after the death of Herman Whitfield III on April 26.

Provided by the Indianapolis Arts Council

Herman Whitfield III

According to an IMPD press release, family members told police the nationally acclaimed pianist and songwriter was suffering from mental distress when officers handcuffed and tasered him at his North Side home. -is. He later died in a hospital.

“Officers should not be sent into situations where mental health professionals are best equipped to respond,” Faith In Indiana organizer Josh Riddick said in an emailed statement.

Riddick called on the mayor to “accelerate plans and bolster clinician-led mobile crisis teams so trained professionals can respond to mental health calls, every time.”

With community leaders and city officials agreeing, why does Indianapolis still send police officers for calls for help related to mental distress?

The answer, like so many things related to public safety in this city, is that this is a complicated change.

“He’s building a strong foundation, that’s key right now,” said Lauren Rodriguez, director of the Office of Public Health and Safety. “We understand what kind of impact this can and will have on our community, so we want to make sure the foundation is strong and strong.”

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Vic Ryckaert/WRTV

Director of the Office of Public Health and Safety Lauren Rodriguez

Rodriguez said adopting this new model is neither simple nor easy.

“It’s not just about having a van and employees,” Rodriguez said. “We have to make sure that we get a van equipped with the right equipment, the right tools that they will need.”

Mobile crisis support teams

Indianapolis in recent years has made progress in how police respond to people with mental health and addiction issues.

Since August 2017, the Mobile crisis support team has had great success in treating people with addictions or mental health issues instead of sending them to jail, Mayor Joe Hogsett said in a speech last month.



“This partnership has led to a 96 percent non-arrest rate, and that’s before we started expanding the program, expanding it to cover all of Indianapolis,” Hogsett told clergy and community leaders during the Faith In Indiana “Fund our Futures” summit. March 8. “It’s progress.”

The MCAT pairs a crisis clinician with a specially trained IMPD officer. There are nine such teams in the city, operating from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays.

But MCAT isn’t good enough, critics say. Faith In Indiana is pushing hard for change. A member of the group told WRTV they wanted mobile crisis teams that included a clinician and a “peer support specialist”.

“The peer support specialist is a member of the community who may have experience with substance abuse or mental health issues,” said Benjamin Tapper of Faith In Indiana. “They can really relate to family members or the person going through their crisis.”

No cops; fewer conflicts

Officials studying and planning a new program are looking to Colorado and Oregon as they consider what a clinician-led response in Indianapolis might mean.

In Eugene and Springfield, Oregon, a nonprofit clinic runs Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets (CAHOOTS) teams, which dispatch a doctor and emergency response worker for emergency calls. non-criminal help.

The program has operated since 1989 with public funding and support from police and municipal leaders. CAHOOTS recently received a grant from Congress to purchase two new pickup trucks.

“By sending the right resources, I can assume there will be fewer times officers find themselves in situations that can turn violent,” Eugene Police Chief Chris said. Skinner told KEZI-TV on April 1. “It actually eliminates conflict, reducing the need to use force.”

A similar program has been operating in Denver, Colorado since 2020. Like the Oregon program, Denver’s Assisted Support Team (STAR) sends a clinician and physician to nonviolent mental health calls.

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Denver 7 (KMGH-TV)

In Denver, Colorado, the Support Team Assisted Response (STAR) dispatches a clinician and physician to nonviolent mental health calls in an unmarked van.

Denver Group Organizer Benjamin Dunning homeless out loud who helped create the STAR program, said it took the pressure off the police department and the public.

“The basic principle of not sending armed police to calls that could be handled better with people with different skill sets is great and we’re already seeing the results of that,” Dunning said. Denver7 (KMGH-TV) in February 2021about eight months after the launch of the program.

The program started with a single van with a behavioral health clinician and an emergency medical technician. After 18 months, Rocky Mountain PBS reported that STAR is growing now six vans staffed by 14 clinicians and physicians.

The Death of Herman Whitfield III

There has been renewed and increased focus on how police treat people with mental illness since the death of 39-year-old Whitfield.

Whitfield “was in a psychosis” when IMPD officers were called to his northeast side home early in the morning of April 26, the department said in a news release.

Officers arrived to find 6ft 2in tall Whitfield naked, sweating and bleeding from the mouth, police said. Officers spent more than 10 minutes talking and using de-escalation tactics, IMPD said.

Police say Whitfield made a sudden move toward an officer.

Officers tasered Whitfield before securing him with a double pair of handcuffs, IMPD said. Whitfield was in police custody when he died in a hospital.

Whitfield, a black man, is mourned by the Indianapolis arts community and others for his talent as a composer and pianist.

At 20 years, Whitfield’s work was created with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra in 2003. He has also worked with The Indianapolis Arts Council and was well regarded by many musicians and artists here and around the world.

Unanswered Questions

We still don’t know why Whitfield died after his encounter with IMPD officers.

The coroner has not yet released the cause of death. The city has not released any body camera footage, 911 calls or other recordings related to the incident that led to the 39-year-old’s death.

Faith In Indiana says the city can’t afford to wait for the investigation. In a May 9 press release, the group called on the Hogsett administration to fire the officers, release the body camera footage and “take swift action to bolster clinician-led mobile crisis teams in all the city”.

“What happened with Mr. Whitfield is tragic,” said Rodriguez, director of the OPHS. “But unfortunately, you know, we knew we had to invest in mental health even before that happened.”

Faith In Indiana, the group calling for rapid change, is also the primary voice helping the city shape and build its new agenda, Rodriguez and Tapper said.

Rodriguez and Tapper have said they want to create a program tailored to Indianapolis. The new program won’t send agents on those calls, but it’s still quite clear who will go instead.

“I don’t necessarily think it’s the job of the police department to deal with all mental health issues, but unfortunately nobody really steps in,” Taylor said. “Sometimes we (officers) have to step in just because no one else does.”

How long?

Mayor Hogsett has pledged to launch a new program here by next year. Rodriguez insists the city will meet that deadline.
Police officials agree the change makes sense. They see the new program as a way to better help people struggling with addictions or mental illness and to give officers time to focus on other issues.


Vic Ryckaert/WRTV

WISP Deputy Leader Chris Bailey

“The more we can do to support our officers and support the community and provide the appropriate resources for people in mental health crisis, the better it is for everyone, including our police officers,” the Deputy Chief of Police said. ‘IMPD, Chris Bailey.

“We can use our officers to focus more on violent crime and community policing and be visible in communities to reduce violent crime.”

Contact WRTV reporter Vic Ryckaert at [email protected] or on Twitter: @vicryc

More | The man who died in police custody was a talented musician from Indianapolis | WISP’s MCAT Program Offers Emergency Mental Health Resources | IMPD names officers involved in death in custody of talented pianist

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