By Tausi Suedi, Program and Communications Associate, ABAG
On Friday, February 19th, The Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers (ABAG), a membership association serving philanthropy in Maryland, met with Baltimore City Police Department (BCPD) Commissioner Kevin Davis. The conversation centered on mental health supports for officers and how to equip the police force as first responders to families and communities in crisis.
The Commissioner began the conversation with the statement that mental health is the unspoken public health issue in law enforcement and needs to be addressed yesterday. He went on to share that the Baltimore City Police force, the 8th largest in the country, has no organizational psychologists on staff. For what is arguably one of the most high stress professions, it seems logical that a department would be staffed to support officers who witness trauma on an almost daily basis. He described issues of retaining officers, fitness-for-duty or disciplinary actions (often the only recourse without mental health services), alcohol abuse, domestic violence, off-duty complaints and all too frequent officer suicides that could be mitigated by immediate, no barrier access to mental health services. Commissioner Davis is seeking to change the department culture, removing the stigma and fear of being disciplined, from what should be a routine interaction with an on-staff colleague driven by personal need or following a traumatic incident.
The Commissioner and his team outlined their plan to bring on two professional organizational psychologists and their hope, that in spite of budget cuts they would receive funding July 1, 2016. When pressed, his team shared that national best practices indicate the need for one psychologist per 1000 officers and that due to budget constraints they had only asked for two. With a police force of 3,000 we pushed back and suggested a challenge: ABAG mental health funders would review a proposal to fund a third position with the City’s firm commitment to fund two positions by July 1 and discussion of budgeting in future years to sustain an in-house mental health team sized to meet best practice standards.
Next Steps: The ABAG Staff is now working with the Commissioner’s team to outline this proposal and will invite our mental health and other interested funders to reconvene, review and partner to provide these much need supportive services for Baltimore officers.
The Commissioner also introduced his intent to create a BCPD Mobile Crisis Team.
As emergency responders, police are the first on the scene of a community or family crisis but rarely are officers trained or coached sufficiently to provide interventions beyond addressing the criminal activity or specific complaint that initiated their presence. In addition to increased officer training, the Commissioner is proposing to establish a Mobile Crisis Team – a team of paired officers and licensed mental health professionals to respond to scenes of trauma, violence or pending violence and seek to decrease the use of force, de-escalate conflicts, divert individuals for services instead of arrest in non-violent situations, provide alternatives to narcotics arrests, provide on the scene mental health support to victims, suspects and witnesses, and conduct post-incident check-ins with individuals and the affected community at large.
The Commissioner is proposing to work with Behavioral Health System Baltimore (BHSB) to contract the services of 3 licensed mental health professionals to staff this team.
ABAG Members expressed great interest and support for this effort and have invited the Commissioner to share more details and costs for consideration by Mental Health and other interested funders.
Next Steps: The ABAG Staff is now working with the Commissioner’s team to outline this proposal and will invite our mental health and other interested funders to reconvene, review and partner to resource this supportive service for Baltimore officers and the communities they serve.
Members interested in learning more about the integration of mental health services into the work of the Baltimore City Police Department are encouraged to contact Celeste Amato at email@example.com for more information.