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About my project

As primary responders to any emergency, police officers are loaded with a vast range of responsibilities and duties. Consequently, due to inadequate mental health/disability services and prevention programs, they are relied upon as first – and often only – responders to scenes where people with mental health and developmental disabilities or substance use disorders are in crisis. As there is a distinct difference between the job/training of law enforcement workers and that of healthcare workers, police officers may not be equipped with the necessary or appropriate skills/tools to handle such crises. Relying exclusively on police officers to respond to these crises can thus have lethal consequences, jeopardizing the safety of everyone involved, including officers themselves.


For example, the presence of armed officers not specifically trained for certain issues may escalate crises, as communication difficulties due to a disability may be perceived as noncompliance by officers, leading to the use of excessive, unnecessary force. Additionally, since police officers have become first responders to mental health emergency calls (the American Psychological Association estimates that at least 20% of police calls for service involve mental health or substance use crises), the stigma is perpetuated that being mentally ill, suicidal, or having a substance use disorder is a “crime” that should be “punished.” This, in turn, increases fear, shame, and mistrust in those suffering from mental health issues or other disorders, making them even more hesitant to seek help or open up about their condition.


Thus, my Gold Award project aims to address the issue of police officers responding to situations when people with mental health and developmental disabilities or with substance use disorders are in crisis, as they lack appropriate guidance/training to effectively handle such situations, which may, in turn, escalate crises, posing a danger to individuals, communities, and officers themselves.


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