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10.23.2020

Making a Difference with Crisis Intervention and Stabilization Units

Recent events around the nation have led to discussions about law-enforcement practices. Today I’d like to talk about the progress Arkansas has made with crisis intervention training for police officers and the Crisis Stabilization Units that offer an alternative to jail for people who are suffering a mental-health crisis.

Our innovative approach was driven by a 21-percent increase in the number of inmates over a three-year period from 2012 to 2015. By 2017, the Arkansas Department of Corrections was at capacity, and hundreds of more inmates were in county jails awaiting transfer to the prison system.

In 2017, the Arkansas Legislature passed Act 423, which called for Crisis Intervention Training for law-enforcement officers and created a pilot program of four Crisis Stabilization Units. Arkansas is the only state to create this kind of partnership of state government, counties, and law enforcement agencies.

The Crisis Intervention Training equipped officers to deescalate violent situations and to recognize the difference between someone whose behavior was criminal and those who were suffering a mental-health crisis. For those suffering a mental-health incident, the stabilization units offered treatment and a bed in a health clinic instead of a night in jail.

Since the first stabilization unit opened on March 1, 2018, the four units have treated nearly 5,000 people in mental-health crisis; nearly 1,500 were diverted by police. Over 500 police officers have received intervention training. At the Arkansas Law Enforcement Training Academy, more than 500 new recruits have received the 16 hours of training. Nearly 2,300 veteran officers have received online intervention training.

But the numbers don’t reflect the real-life impact of this initiative. I have heard many stories about the people who have benefited from this forward-thinking approach, including this incident in Fort Smith, which illustrates the value of cooperation among teams as well as the stabilization units. Two crisis intervention officers were summoned to a hospital where police were observing a woman curled into the fetal position with her hair pulled over her eyes. She had no identification and couldn’t speak to the officers. Animal control officers were caring for her dog, which was with her when police found her. At the suggestion of a crisis intervention officer, the officers caring for her dog found the dog had a chip and learned the woman’s name. When the officer at the hospital called her by name, the woman began to answer then the officer sat with the woman and spoke her name. The lady officer immediately began looking at her and she explained that the officers were there to help. The woman slowly began speaking and answering questions. Officers took her to the crisis stabilization unit, where the staff treated her, and she later thanked officers for their help.

The President of the United States has asked the U.S. Attorney General to study successful programs such as ours, and our report is on its way to the Administration.

We have neglected the mental-health challenges in our nation for far too long. The Crisis Stabilization Units provide help to those who suffer from mental illness, and the training reduces risk of injury to our officers and the people they encounter.

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