Madison Police Department

Why Cops Are In An Impossible Situation

In last week’s post, Why We Must Understand Before We Judge, I wrote:

“I don’t blame police officers for rushing to judgement; cops got a lot on their plate! Police officers work in a high-stress life-threatening environment everyday. Now add public scrutiny to the mix and thrust them into no-win scenarios. How do you think you’d do as a police officer?”

At the end of last week’s post I promised to explain why police officers are in a lose-lose catch-22 when dealing with mental health crisis calls.

…so strap on your imagination helmets!


Police Question Man on Curb
Imagine police officers being dispatched to an individual acting erratically.

Officers respond to keep the individual and the general public safe. They’re there to help*.

If the individual is in the middle of a mental health crisis even the sight of police officers in uniform can escalate the situation. The individual may be resentful or argumentative or (potentially) pose a threat to the officer’s wellbeing. The individual may not see the need for help or doesn’t want anyone’s help.

The officers have four** choices:

  1. Spend a minute with the individual, tell them to keep it down, say “we don’t want to come back here,” and leave.
  2. Go hands-on, potentially escalate the situation, arrest the individual and transport to jail (or a medical facility) in a matter of minutes.
  3. Call for ambulance transport to medical facility and wait with individual.
  4. Stay, continue to receive the brunt of the individual’s frustration while attempting to de-escalate the individual over a potentially significant period of time in hopes of getting to understand why the individual is in crisis and how best to help.

However, the officer’s commander*** doesn’t want/can’t afford officers to take such a long time to resolve calls.

Not only are the officers being pressured by their commanders, but the community demands a fast response time when they dial 9-1-1.

If an officer stays to help an individual in crisis, then the commander is displeased and parts of the community suffer.

If an officer goes hands-on and quickly clears calls, then the commander and parts of the community are happy, but the individual in crisis may be sent to jail**** whereupon s/he will not receive adequate healthcare which could potentially make their condition worse; and parts of the community are still frustrated by the lack of training to help individuals in crisis.

rock-and-hard-place

Pretty shitty situation to be in, right? So what are large cities supposed to do?

Possible solutions may be similar Madison, Wisconsin’s, Mental Health Liaison/Officer Program or the LAPD’s Mental Evaluation Unit. You can read more about the Mental Evaluation Unit in this story on NPR or listen below.

But to implement such a program in a large city like Minneapolis?

It’d take time, money, resources, and a shift in consciousness from the general tax-paying/voting public.

What possible solutions do you propose?


* = Not all cops are bad. We have to stop thinking police officers are the enemy.

** = There are probably more options, but as I’m not a police officer these are all I see/have heard from my pals in law enforcement.

*** = Or so I’ve been told in confidence by officers in the Minneapolis Police Department

**** = mental illness is not a crime