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Crisis intervention for first responders

In this tip, Gordon Graham outlines how first responders should communicate when encountering an individual experiencing a mental health crisis

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Gordon Graham here with Today’s Tip from Lexipol.

Today’s Tip is for all my public safety friends out there. Times are tough. No doubt about it. Lots of people are hurting right now as a result of the global pandemic. But even before COVID-19, our first responders encountered an increasing number of people experiencing mental health issues or crises.

These contacts are different from traditional calls for service. They may not involve a crime to investigate. And sometimes a person experiencing a mental health crisis exhibits the same symptoms as a person under the influence of drugs or alcohol. This requires first responders to take a slightly different approach while still being vigilant and maintaining our safety.

There are a number of possible signs of mental illness. Disorientation, hallucinations or delusions, withdrawal, anxiety, and paranoia. Just to name a few. Public safety professionals are on the front lines when it comes to those in crisis. How we respond to these situations is extremely important.

There are some steps we can take to minimize the risks presented and help de-escalate the situation. Consider turning off bright or flashing lights. Move and speak in a non-threatening manner. Ask disruptive people to leave the area, including family members. Most of all, have patience. Remember that the person you’re dealing with might have an altered reality. Do your best to communicate with the person. It’s a careful balancing act between your personal safety and theirs. With limited resources at your disposal, you may be the only one who can get them the help they need.

Remember, our primary goal in these encounters is helping those in crisis get the proper care. Whether that means a civil commitment or simply a friendly conversation, you can have a big impact on mitigating any crisis situation. Stay safe out there.

And that’s Today’s Tip from Lexipol. Gordon Graham, signing off.

Gordon Graham has been actively involved in law enforcement since 1973. He spent nearly 10 years as a very active motorcycle officer while also attending Cal State Long Beach to achieve his teaching credential, USC to do his graduate work in Safety and Systems Management with an emphasis on Risk Management, and Western State University to obtain his law degree. In 1982 he was promoted to sergeant and also admitted to the California State Bar and immediately opened his law offices in Los Angeles.