Mental Health Response & Co-Responders
Mental health encounters with police have a long history of ending in the deaths of mentally ill people. Many likely remember the case of Barbara Schneider, a social justice activist with bipolar disorder who had armed herself with a knife in her Uptown apartment. She was shot and killed by Minneapolis Police Sgt. William Palmer in 2000.¹ (After Schneider’s death, the Barbara Schneider Foundation put together Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) to help train and educate police and other first-responders around the state.)²
Against this backdrop, the City of Minneapolis has watched for many years police interactions with citizens in mental health crises. In 2016, the Minneapolis Police Oversight Committee issued a report³ that noted that police/citizen interactions in mental health situations can result in incarceration, or even in injury or death at an alarming rate nationwide.
Hennepin County runs a Community Outreach for Psychiatric Emergencies (COPE) program that the City has used as part of its mental health intervention strategy. This partnership is in keeping with the City’s dependence on the County for social services that the state legislature funds through the County.
COPE is a mobile mental health crisis intervention program. In September 2017, Minneapolis initiated a Co-responder pilot project in the 5th and 3rd Precincts in cooperation with Hennepin County social workers employed by the COPE program. By 2019, the co-responder program was in all Minneapolis police precincts.4 As part of the program, a team consisting of an officer and a mental health professional responded in an unmarked car when directed by 911 operators or when an armed team was dispatched and requested their assistance.
The aim of this program was to:
- Provide effective and compassionate crisis intervention to individuals with mental illness
- Deliver a more comprehensive service to those with a mental illness by mental health professionals who can conduct onsite assessments with greater knowledge of resources available
- Reduce hospitalization and/or arrest of mentally ill individuals
- Reduce injuries to officers, individuals experiencing mental illness and others involved
- Reduce use of force events
- Reduce time sworn officers spend on mental health calls
- Cover a gap in disparate service to those with mental health issues who have not sought or have not been able to access assistance
Data collected from September 11, 2017 to January 1st, 2020 indicates that the program met its goal to reduce police use of force:
- 3,306 contacts were attempted by Co-Responder Units through 1,775 911 Response calls and 1,531 requests assistance calls
- COPE mental health professionals assigned to the co-responder units made 961 mental health assessments
- only five uses of force cases resulted after an individual assaulted an officer
As to the individuals who generated the calls, 34% remained at home, 36% went to the hospital or a crisis residence, 29% (516) received no service or were gone on arrival, and less than 1% were arrested
In the spring of 2020, the program was suspended due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the decision by Hennepin County that their personnel would not respond in-person to calls.
After the killing of George Floyd, Summer 2020 to Spring 2021
One of the earliest responses to the public outcry after George Floyd’s murder was passage of the Minnesota Police Accountability Act in the state legislature. This bill, signed by the Governor on July 23, 2020, requires the POST Board to provide training for police in the following areas:
- Crisis response and mental health
- Conflict management, and cultural diversity
Many departments, including the Minneapolis Police Department, already mandate 40 hours of Crisis Intervention Training for their officers. This Act will require additional training on top of that.
In December 2020, the Minneapolis City Council approved and Mayor Frey signed the 2021 budget, which shifted some police programs to the Office of Violence Prevention. In January 2021, the City of Minneapolis presented plans to continue COPE programs. Currently, the Public Health & Safety Committee of the City Council in conjunction with the Office of Performance & Innovation (OPI) (a division of the City Coordinator’s Office) have three pilot programs to dispatch non-police, mobile crisis intervention teams for emergency mental health calls.5
- MH1 Pilot – Mobile Mental Health Crisis Response Teams
Project Overview and Goal
A mobile crisis intervention program that will dispatch non-police response to emergency mental health calls. Mental health response teams will include mental health providers and may include MT/EMS. The goal of this program is to give people experiencing a mental health crisis an alternative to police who can properly assess their needs, provide appropriate care and support while avoiding unnecessary hospitalization and criminalization.
- MH2 Pilot – Train 911 Dispatch in Assessing Mental Health Calls
Project Overview and Goal
A portion of 911 call takers/dispatchers/supervisors would receive additional and specialized mental health dispatch training. Their experience would then be evaluated before training all staff. The training would be facilitated by a third party. The goal is to equip 911 call takers and dispatchers with tools needed to assess mental health calls above and beyond current training so that they may dispatch the most appropriate responses and provide responders with high quality information as it relates to mental health and behavioral issues.
- MH3 Pilot – Embed Mental Health Professionals in 911
Project Overview and Goal
Two mental health professionals will be embedded in 911. The mental health professionals will work closely with call takers and dispatchers to help improve mental health triage, divert calls from MPD, and identify the most appropriate response for mental health calls. The goals are to provide mental health triage on a broader scale, divert 911 mental health calls from MPD, identify appropriate resources for the person in crisis.
There is also a fourth pilot focused on alternative responses to theft and burglary. See REFORMING RESPONSES TO MINNEAPOLIS 911 CALLS for more on the 911 perspective.
Minneapolis is not alone in implementing a co-responder program. Many other Minnesota jurisdictions have programs similar to the Minneapolis Co-responder program, including embedded social workers in response teams (Richfield, Duluth, St. Paul, Rochester). Some have pre-trial/post arrest diversion programs (Mankato’s Yellow Line Project).
1 Police learn lessons after shooting of mentally ill woman 10 years ago, MPR News, Jun 10, 2011
4 Sgt. Kristopher Brown, Fifth Precinct Co-Responder Supervisor, PowerPoint Presentation “Minneapolis Police Department in partnership with Hennepin County C.O.P.E.” 2018
June 8, 2021 @ 9:40 pm
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