The U.S. Department of Justice has released a report on how law enforcement has an ongoing and continuously improving skills-based approach during calls which involve persons whose behavior is being driven by mental illness. This makes these encounters safer for the individual, for bystanders, and for police. This report focused on adults because when minors are involved different laws and different training come into play.
Justine van der Leun in her article No Choice But To Do It (The New Republic, December 17, 2020) looked at the female prison population of the United States and found that “many of the 230,000 women and girls in U.S. jails and prisons were abuse survivors before they entered the system…. at least 30 percent of those serving time on murder or manslaughter charges were protecting themselves or a loved one from physical or sexual violence.” These women and teens all were involved with the criminal justice system and with law enforcement.
Law enforcement at all levels trains in how to interact with mentally ill victims, perpetrators, and other witnesses like family members. A good example is that the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has, to date, trained almost a half million law enforcement personnel in over 300 different law enforcement agencies to identify and respond well when a mental illness or other, related dysfunction (drug use, family abuse) issues are involved in intervention and investigation.
In 1970, the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) was established to raise and maintain the quality of training, which prior to that time had varied greatly among federal agencies and standardized training was a largely unexplored notion. Areas of training now include dealing with mentally ill persons, victims of abuse, abduction and trafficking, and more recently disabled persons.
These training programs are offered by agencies keenly interested in ensuring the mentally ill who act out are also protected with healthful and informed care — to reduce not inflame a crisis. They can be resources for you and also can provide resources and training for local law enforcement where you may choose to engage them for the sake of caring for the abused and traumatized who are still in raw shape.
Another great resource is the U.S. Department of Justice Office for Victims of Crime, which, while it exists to help local success supporting victims of recent crime manage, offers a treasure trove of resources and materials for all victims of crime — including historical crimes of abuse.
As my tenure leading the Northern Virginia Human Trafficking Task Force ended this summer, I left drained from the work and also greatly informed about the great strides law enforcement has been taking in its combat with human trafficking …. One very big advancement is how, with so obsequious a crime as networked trafficking and related gang commerce, police and support staff are growing highly skilled identifying when drugs and other factors are affecting judgment and behavior is highly charged and potentially dangerous local calls. Let’s keep in mind that it is in these high-emotion calls where mental illness or substance abuse often plays a role, and they make the encounter much more dangerous for victims, perpetrators, witnesses — and law enforcement.
Anything you do to bring better understanding to your stakeholders is a step in the direction of a safer locality overall.
I keep a couple articles bookmarked for survivor friends who, now and then, shift into states of mental illness where they struggle (with the help of competent professionals and a good network of peers) with behavioral issues that can involve acting out. In the past 20 years, this has involved two or three having to interact with police.
If you know someone who similarly struggles and is able to act out in a self-destructive manner that may involve police intervention, it is a kind and responsible (if challenging) conversation to offer: how to help any encounter with police succeed. Even learning skills for speaking to police or hosting a casual dialogue with police can reduce anxieties, particularly among certain demographics and definitely among survivors of abuse.
NPR offered a good article on basics, as a citizen, to know for any encounter with law enforcement, from traffic stop to arrest, called What to Do If Police Stop You. The U.S. Department of Justice offers a confidential way to register complaints about law enforcement misconduct anywhere in the United States or its territories. Albuquerque police launched a Talk with a Cop program, which most local police forces offer; a police person will come and speak to groups of any kind.