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Reentry Resource Center - New York

Serving People from Arrest to Reintegration

Police Interactions with Individuals in Psychiatric Crisis: A Briefing Prepared for Michael A. Cardozo Corporation Counsel of the City of New York (2002)

  • Organization: Urban Justice Center
  • Date Created: Monday, October 23, 2006
  • Submitted: Monday, October 23, 2006
  • Attachment(s): PDF

As representatives of the mental health community in New York City and New York State, we write about an issue of growing concern: whether members of the New York City Police Department (NYPD) are inadequately trained to interact with individuals experiencing a psychological crisis. In the summer of 2001, an important dialogue was started among representatives of the NYPD, the New York City Law Department and representatives of the mental health community. For understandable reasons, the events of September 11th abruptly ended that dialogue. We hope to revive those efforts at this time.

The following briefly describes what we see as nothing short of a crisis in police-community relations. While the NYPD has taken steps to improve interactions with particular community groups in New York City (e.g., people of color, ethnic groups, the gay and lesbian community, victims of domestic violence), there is a pervasive fear among mental health consumers, providers and families that police officers in New York City do not receive adequate training to interact appropriately and peacefully with individuals suffering from psychiatric disabilities.

There is a painful public memory of the high profile interactions between the NYPD and individuals with psychiatric disabilities that have resulted in the death of New Yorkers over the years: Eleanor Bumpers, Gidone Busch and Kevin Cerbelli. In addition to these well-publicized incidents, many consumers and their families have had strained interactions of their own with members of the NYPD. These public and private experiences have created a perception that a cry for help to the NYPD in the event of a psychiatric crisis can have unintended results: injury, or even death. While we recognize that such outcomes are rare, they call into question the NYPD's training and protocols and create fear and uncertainty in the mental health community.

The events of September 11th have heightened such concern. Members of the NYPD experienced unspeakable personal trauma; New Yorkers of every background are dealing with psychological and emotional problems; the stressful aftermath can exacerbate the symptoms of the mentally ill. These factors, coupled with the new police commissioner's intention to crack down on "quality of life" crimes, lead us to fear an immediate increase in the number of interactions between individuals in crisis and the NYPD, at a time when the NYPD is already taxed to the limit by other critical needs.

We hope to revive our dialogue with the new mayor and police commissioner on the subject of improving police relations with the mental health community. First and foremost, we ask Mayor Michael Bloomberg to appoint a "blue ribbon" Commission to review this crisis in police-community relations. The members of this Commission would represent all sectors of the community: the NYPD, public health officials and other government representatives, educators, mental health professionals, representatives of the criminal justice system, institutional providers, consumers, family members of individuals with psychiatric disabilities and advocates for the mentally ill. They would work collaboratively to study the issues, make recommendations, propose pilot programs, and serve as an important channel for communication between the mental health community and the NYPD. The recent opening of the Mental Health Court in Brooklyn, intended to keep the mentally ill from getting trapped in revolving-door justice, suggests the timeliness of this initiative concerning the initial contacts between the mentally ill and the criminal justice system. We believe that a collective effort is the most effective way to improve police interactions with individuals in crisis and police relations with members of the mental health community in general.

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