ARLINGTON, Va. – Mental Health Awareness Month, recognized each May, is a nationwide public health campaign that works to raise awareness about mental illness and the importance of mental health treatment, support and services. In 2018, the Arlington County Police Department responded to 2,227 calls for service involving individuals in mental health crisis—a figure that has risen each year since 2015. To increase awareness about Department initiatives and resources, we are sharing information about how we interact with the public, and how we are ensuring that our officers have the resources they need to continue to provide professional police services to our community.
Crisis Intervention Team Training
Crisis Intervention Team (CIT), a 40-hour training by the Department of Human Services (DHS), provides officers with the skills to respond more effectively to individuals experiencing mental health crises while increasing the number of individuals with mental illness who receive treatment in lieu of incarceration. More than 76% of the Department’s patrol officers are CIT certified and there are CIT trained officers on each shift, ensuring they are available 24/7/365 to respond to mental health calls for service. When requesting police service, members of the public can ask the dispatcher that an available CIT officer respond to their incident. The utilization of CIT training and the de-escalation techniques and active listening skills it provides occurs daily by officers. As a result, the Department is working to develop an advanced CIT training curriculum. The advanced training will allow for more experienced, senior officers who have already completed the basic CIT training to expand their working knowledge and ability to effectively interact with individuals with mental illness in the community.
Establishing the Trespass Alternative Program
The Trespass Alternative Program, a pilot initiative between police and DHS, pairs CIT-trained officers with DHS clinicians to proactively check-up on individuals in the community, who are banned from specified locations and have documented mental health concerns, and ensure they are connected with services available through DHS and other partner organizations. This program also works with businesses to understand what conditions lead them to ban individuals from their property, so that officers and clinicians can better understand the concerns of businesses and individuals in the community with habitual trespassing tendencies. The goal of the program is to ensure that those with mental health illnesses do not enter the criminal justice system on minor infractions and instead divert individuals to treatment options. In its pilot phase, this program has DHS clinicians riding with officers on patrol twice a month for four hours each time.
Ensuring the Mental and Physical Wellbeing of Officers
In recognizing that law enforcement is an inherently stressful career, the Department continues to proactively expand resources available to ensure the physical and mental well being of officers. In 2019, it is anticipated that the department will add officer wellness to its key initiatives, ensuring that a holistic approach to both physical and mental health remains a priority for the agency.
The Commonwealth of Virginia recently accredited the Department’s Peer Support Team which is designed to aid officers during times of both professional and personal crisis through the use of specially-trained volunteer officers within the department. The accreditation program establishes standards for training for staff involved in peer support. Team members are trained in group and individual crisis and debriefing and suicide prevention. Additionally, some members are also trained in PTSD awareness and support. The Peer Support Team is made up of trained police staff from across the agency, as well as two clinicians from the Employee Assistance Program. The team travels throughout the region to assist other public safety agencies during critical incidents and has presented to other public safety agencies to raise awareness on suicide and mental health issues, with the hopes of starting conversation and reducing stigma around these topics.
To address physical wellness, four officers became certified peer fitness trainers and will work to develop a larger agency-wide program to promote physical fitness through individual and group sessions, building upon the pre-academy functional fitness programs already in place for new recruits. The agency is also working to implement a nutrition education pilot program, which will help officers to better understand basic nutrition concepts and develop meal plans to meet their nutritional needs through group and individual sessions.
Help and Support is Available
ACPD is committed to working collaboratively with DHS and other community partners to better serve the mental health needs of our community and our officers. If you or someone you know is in need of mental health assistance in our community, there are a wealth of services available through the Behavioral Healthcare Division of the Department of Human Services. For emergency behavioral healthcare services, call 703-228-5160.