We would like to keep our community informed as we work to find ways to address the unique challenges related to our response to people who are armed and suicidal or potentially suicidal. The officer-involved shooting that occurred on March 29 on Devos Street and resulted in the death of Brian Babb has intensified our work to find new ways to respond to veterans and other public members who are in acute behavioral health crisis and may be armed. These steps are critical, as Lane County has one of the highest numbers of veterans in the state as well as a sustained lack of behavioral health resources for people who experience dual diagnosis, PTSD and other conditions.
Over the last few months we have examined how to better serve our military veteran community. We have been looking to other agencies and their best practices to see how to join with our community to help veterans in crisis. The establishment of a new Veteran Affairs outpatient clinic in the area coupled with repeated deployments by the Army, Navy and Marine national guard units headquartered here will increase the volume of interaction we have with veterans.
The department understands that many who wear the Eugene Police uniform, also wore a different uniform prior to a police career. We have asked our veteran employees to meet with us to share what we’ve learned, solicit their advice regarding police response to veterans in crisis and how early intervention with veterans should look, as well as any other ways or methods the department could be helping veterans.
Simultaneously to an administrative review scheduled for August 10, we have taken the following steps toward a uniquely-designed intervention and response project:
• In early June, Assistant Chief Karl Durr, Lieutenant Nate Reynolds (in charge of Policy and Training) and Lieutenant Carolyn Mason (in charge of our Crisis Intervention Training program), traveled to Boise to learn about the integrated intervention program their police department developed together with the VA and local providers. They were given an exhaustive review and assessment of a successful program and are beginning the work of seeing what we have in Lane County that is similar and where we can better coordinate. It sounds like direct intervention in the field for those in crisis is a powerful component. Hopefully our community has the capacity to provide the same or similar services.
• When persons in crisis are engaged in conversation with a counselor or mental health professional, we have directed supervisors to make every effort to allow that conversation to continue, until and unless there are circumstances which make that continued conversation counterproductive, and to make every effort to work face-to-face with the counselor to resolve the incident safely.
• Watch commanders and patrol supervisors are expected to use Crisis Negotiation Team resources when their officers become involved in situations requiring protracted negotiations, or if it would benefit the situation. Members of CNT are highly trained and skilled at negotiating the successful resolution of calls and are available to provide that service to both patrol and investigations, as necessary. Ideally, we are planning a minimum of two CNT personnel would be summoned when possible.
• We are working with the Vet Center, Lane County Veteran’s Court (local social service provider tailored to assisting veterans and their families), commanders of local National Guard units, veteran’s groups of all branches, American Legion, and other stakeholders to learn more about what services are available and to seek advice. The department continues to learn quite a bit from these conversations that are informing the development of a locally-grown project.
• In-service training for officers in May included presentations by VA Community-based Reintegration Center and Clinic, and the Vet Center on strategies to increase positive outcomes with veterans in crisis.
• Armored vehicles are valuable tools to keep officers and civilians safe, and under some circumstances, they can have a potential for increasing anxiety of subjects. To more closely track the use of armored vehicles, effective July 1, 2015, supervisors are required report on its use and benefits.
• 100 percent of Eugene Police sworn staff have taken 40-hours of Crisis Intervention Training. CIT is a police-based, first-responder crisis intervention model that works with community, health care and advocacy partnerships. It is designed to increase the ability to safely resolve police encounters with people who have behavioral health diagnoses, and when appropriate link them to mental health supports and services that reduce their chances of future interactions with the criminal justice system. Officers and deputies work in conjunction with trained dispatchers, CAHOOTS and mental health providers.
• An officer-involved shooting review board is normally comprised of a lieutenant as the chair, the officer's immediate supervisor, the department's defensive tactics instructor, the department's firearms instructor, and the department's training supervisor. In the Devos officer-involved shooting case the board will also include a psychologist, who has been a lead instructor in our CIT program; a Communication Center supervisor; and a use-of-force expert who has a background in patrol tactics and police response to combat veterans in crisis.
Police are not mental health care professionals. And yet we respond to calls all day, every day involving people in extreme emotional distress; people who would be better served by having their conditions treated at the root cause. Unfortunately, in many cases people on the street are not treated or inconsistently treated and their behavior generates calls for police and incarceration. Many in our jails and prisons have dual behavioral health diagnoses. For that reason, we encourage our legislators, community and partners to look for ways to increase support for behavioral health and addiction treatment services. ###