HCPD has a robust program to train officers in mental health situations and to offer resources and services for the public. Police officers are often the first people to make contact with someone in a mental health crisis. HCPD has focused significant resources on preparing officers for these encounters, partnering with clinicians and tracking these incidents for follow-up. The goal is to prevent people who may be in crisis from hurting themselves or someone else, and to refer them to appropriate services.
Howard County police officers and dispatchers go through a specialized 40-hour training to be certified members of Crisis Intervention Teams (CIT) to more effectively and safely interact with people with mental health issues. This training is conducted in partnership with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center. It provides officers with an advanced level of mental health awareness, de-escalation techniques, active listening skills, and trauma-informed policing practices.
The police department partners with Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center to staff two Mobile Crisis Teams (MCT) of trained mental health professionals who respond with officers to help people who may be experiencing emotional, traumatic or psychiatric crises. The program is a partnership with Grassroots, Humanim and the Howard County Mental Health Authority. These trained professionals can bring a higher level of clinical care and offer rapid access to resources.
Howard County Police partners with Grassroots Crisis Intervention to defer non-emergency mental health 911 calls to counselors through the Communications Initiated Referral to Crisis (CIRC) program. This program allows increased coordination and provide a more appropriate level of response at the time when someone needs it the most. When a person in crisis calls 911, dispatchers can divert appropriate callers to a team of Grassroots hotline workers that are skilled in handling calls and can provide rapid access to community-based services.
Prior to transferring a call to the Grassroots Crisis Line, HCPD staff will eliminate that the caller:
- Presents any immediate harm to self or others
- Gives any indication they possess or have immediate access to a weapon or other means of immediate harm
- Indicates the presence of a plan
- Is under 18 years of age
- Indicates any use of drugs or alcohol
If none of these high-risk factors exist, the caller will be asked if they would like to talk to a counselor in lieu of a police response. At any time if a counselor believes the caller is in imminent danger, they will dispatch police to the scene.
The HCPD has a full-time Mental Health Section, which is staffed with four full-time employees: a sworn police sergeant, two sworn police officers and a civilian employee who is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC). The section addresses issues related to police calls for mental health crises, suicides and suicide attempts, and emergency petitions, in which people are taken by police to the hospital if they pose a risk to themselves or someone else. When mental health incidents occur, the section members provide follow-up support for people and family members. They make referrals and ensure appropriate resources are being provided.
All officers receive annual refresher in-service training in behavioral and mental health crises. Every new recruit officer receives more than 30 hours of training on mental health in the police academy. These trainings include an overview of behavioral health, what to do when encountering an individual with possible mental illness, de-escalation techniques, suicide prevention and reducing stigma, among other curricula.
Howard County Police routinely respond to calls for persons with an identified developmental, intellectual, degenerative or physical disorder or disability who have wandered off, gone missing, or are in a state of crisis. With the 911 flagging program, police can be alerted immediately that the person involved has a certain condition and provided with valuable information and ways to help before they even arrive. For example, a child that goes missing and is drawn to water could be at significant risk, and getting officers to those locations faster -- before even arriving at your house -- could be lifesaving. Providing information that your loved one is deaf would significantly affect the way an officer communicates with them, without adding to the confusion of an already stressful or chaotic incident. The database can be used for any relevant mental or physical health concern, to include:
- Intellectual or developmental disability
- Physical disability, such as blindness or deafness
- Mental health diagnoses
- Other behavior that may affect police response
HCPD encourages those with special circumstances to use the flagging program so that officers can be provided with important information before they arrive at your residence. All information remains confidential and is never shared with outside entities, and is only used to benefit responding officers.