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The Challenge of Mental Illness

Mental Illness is one of the larger challenges that we deal with as a community. The City of Madison is fortunate enough to have a myriad of selfless individuals and qualified agencies that strive to assist those afflicted with mental illness on a daily basis. Unfortunately, despite all of these efforts, we still are not doing enough as a community to address the challenges of mental illness. This speaks to the magnitude of the problem. It is safe to say that most of us know someone who struggles with mental illness, and unfortunately, there are still those in the community who would stigmatize our mentally ill.

A great number of individuals with mental illness are getting the treatment they need and never have to utilize police services. However, our officers are still frequently called to help with individuals diagnosed with mental illness and are experiencing a crisis. That is why all of our patrol officers receive mental health/crisis intervention training in our pre-service academy and then get periodic “booster shots” through annual in-service trainings over the course of their careers. MPD will always make this a priority training item and we have hosted other law enforcement agencies who share our same goals. We meet and exceed State of Wisconsin training hours in this important niche of our work.

Additionally, we started our Mental Health Unit (MHU) in February of 2015. This stand-alone unit collaborates with Journey Mental Health to provide coordinated, professional and compassionate police response to individuals affected by mental illness. The MHU started with five officers and in March of 2016, we added civilian Law Enforcement Crisis Workers (LECWs). In 2018, we added a third LECW, a sixth Mental Health Officer (MHO) to cover our new Midtown Station, and a dedicated Sergeant to supervise the Unit. This MHU is supplemented by almost 40 mental health liaison officers who ride in patrol services with their eyes and ears wide open for those calls where they can offer assistance. Our response to mental health calls has earned us a coveted distinction in being recognized by the Bureau of Justice Assistance as one of only ten learning sites established in the United States. As a MHU, MPD remains committed to working collaboratively with partner agencies to improve outcomes for individuals affected by mental illnesses or suffering a crisis by connecting them to needed services and diverting them away from the criminal justice system whenever possible.

Here is the link to the complete 2018 Annual Report for the MHU. This report highlights all of the good work done by the MHU and discusses the challenges officers continue to face. The report speaks for itself, but a couple of statistics are worth pointing out. In 2018, MPD officers wrote police reports in 45,702 distinct cases. Of these cases, 10% were mental health-related. This marks a consistent rise from 2016 and 2017. Another glaring statistic is the amount of time spent on emergency detentions. In 2018, MHOs spent 290.75 hours on 79 emergency detention evaluations, which translates to over seven weeks of officer time.  MPD will continue to commit specialized resources and training to help address those living within our city who are struggling with mental illness and in crisis. But we will also continue to call upon others outside of the MPD to make reforms to our mental health systems as needed.

This post was originally published June 17, 2019 at Chief Koval’s Blog.

Michael Koval
Chief of Police
Madison Police Department, Wisconsin