Kevin Haggerty: How to improve police mental health interactions in Kansas City

Kevin Haggerty explains how to improve the interactions for police mental health contacts

Kevin Haggerty has been involved with the National Alliance on Mental Illnesses (NAMI)  Crisis Intervention Training for over ten years.  This is a program that basically says that police officers will be safer by treating people with mental health crisis differently than people who are criminals. Criminals respond to authority, decisiveness, and the display of

Kevin Haggerty, a police mental health interaction specialist, with Helen Minth, founder of the Heartland Consumer Network

Kevin Haggerty, a police mental health interaction specialist, with Helen Minth, founder of the Heartland Consumer Network

power. However, many people that are in emotional crisis react with intense fear to these aggresions. Instead police mental health interactions should focus on calmness, understanding and slow movements and lots of explanations.  (Actually, this is true for anyone helping someone in crisis, or maybe anyone in any situation.) When this works out, both the police mental health injury rates lower drastically for both police officers and people with mental health labels.

Kevin is my partner with the Heartland Consumer Network for Kansas City’s community evaluation project. He is a volunteer for Compassionate Ear, a call in support line in Kansas City. He ran a support group for over ten years called Schizophrenics Anonymous. His story of a police mental health interaction that went wrong shows that treating people with force will breed violence in almost every case, even a seasoned advocate like Kevin who knows so much about police mental health situations. Keep in mind that Kevin is such a quiet and mild-mannered guy that sometimes he has to repeat himself multiple times to get heard.

A police mental health interaction gone seriously wrong:

Kevin says,

I came in the emergecy room for one reason and left because of another reason. A reason I could not explain.

I went to the emergency room for a minor incident. I took my medicine before I went to the emergency room. This plays a major effect later on in the story. [Many people with mental health labels take very sedating meds in the evening.] I went and was waited on in the emergency room rather promptly. When I was finally waited on the nurse told me to wait in the cubicle I was in. I began to worry why it was taking so long for the nurse to come back and see me. The nurse checked on me several times before finally seeing me.

My meds kicked in during this time. So I started experiencing some of the side effects of the medicines. This included slurring of my words and having a heavy tongue. When the nurse checked back on me when my meds kicked in she wondered what was happening. I tried to tell her it was my psychiatric medicines. I don’ think she understood what I was talking about. The nurse thought I was suicidal. So she thought I needed to be treated for that. The nurse took a long time away from me after my medicines kicked in. What I didn’t know was she was calling the police.

When the nurse finally did come back she told me I was saying how suicidal I was. This was a lie. I never mentioned suicide. But the nurse had told me I did and that she called the police to take me to the psychiatric hospital. When the police finally did come in to my cubicle they asked whether I was going to be cooperative or not. I told them I wasn’t going to any psychiatric hospital. That is when the three police officers tried to grab me.

I resisted immediately. I started kicking and punching them. That is when they started to undress me. They took off my shoes. Then they took off my pants. I still was kicking and punnching them. That is when one police officer grabbed my legs. The two other police officers grabbbed each of my arms. They wrestled me to the floor. They then started trying to pin me down on the floor.Each of the officers still had control of my arms and legs. They started applying pressure on my joints. The police officers did this until I was complacent. I began to feel the pain of their pressure points on my arms and legs. Somebody during this time gave me a shot of something to calm me down. I still got in some good kicks and punches to the officers but their pressure points finally made me cave in.

I can’t believe the officers did this just to get me to go to the psychiatric hospital. My fight was in vain. I finally agreed to go to the psychiattric hospital if they would stop me physically abusing me. They gave me the choice of going by ambulance or police car. I chose to go by ambulance. I was peaceful the rest of the way. I was just glad to be out of the situation. I cannot believe the nurse lied about me being suicidal. I think more training needs to be done in emergency rooms regarding dealing with mental patients.

Now here’s the good news for how to improve police mental health interactions: Crisis Intervention Training, or CIT is a 40 hour program that shows lots of ways for officers not to re-activate people’s experiences of fear and worsen the interaction. Here are benefits of the program, from the Memphis Police Department:

  • Crisis response is immediate
  •  Arrests and use of force has decreased
  •  Underserved consumers are identified by officers and provided with care
  •  Patient violence and use of restraints in the ER has decreased
  •  Officers are better trained and educated in verbal de-escalation techniques
  •  Officer’s injuries during crisis events have declined
  •  Officer recognition and appreciation by the community has increased
  •  Less “victimless” crime arrests
  •  Decrease in liability for health care issues in the jail
  •  Cost savings
Kevin got some pizza for lunch at the Heartland Consumer Network annual training

Kevin got some pizza for lunch at the Heartland Consumer Network annual training

Build police mental health training in Kansas City:

Wellness Wordworks has made initial contacts to form a preliminary partnership going with Julie Solomon at the Wyandot Center to create a brand new CIT program in Wyandotte County. Some CIT programs like Kansas City have less contact with people in recovery during the training, partly because people like Kevin Haggerty are sometimes so mild mannered and polite. Our goal is to build a program that has a huge amount of interaction with people in recovery, like Idaho’s program which was presented at Alternatives 2009 in Omaha, NE.  In their 40 hour training, the officers visit mental hospitals, peer support centers, peer support groups, and listen to presentations from people in recovery.

Do you want to participate in creating this brand new police mental health program? Put a comment here about what we should add to it, or contact us to volunteer.

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