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Departments : A Closer Look

New Orleans PD's Crisis Unit

The New Orleans Police Department has dealt with disturbances involving the mentally ill through creation of its Crisis Unit and the use of mental health clinicians as advisers

December 01, 2000  |  by New Orleans Police Team


Police recruit and mental health technician Mitch Weatherly and mental health technician Lynnda Gerson, of the NOPD Crisis Unit, speak with a client.

The medications used to treat bipolar illness are Lithium, Tegretol, Klonopin and Depakote.

Personality disorders, as mentioned above, do not respond well to medications. If extreme behaviors are observed and there is no history of psychiatric hospitalization or medication (except for possibly antidepressants) a responsible guess of personality disorder can be made.

Schizophrenic and bipolar subjects behave differently when confronted by the police. Individuals suffering from schizophrenia do not like the feeling of being out of control or having to depend on someone to assist them. However, when approached with a firm, compassionate show of force, these subjects tend to comply with reasonable requests for security and safety. They may say, "Do what you have to do," which translates to "Rescue me; help me to be safe." When more aggressive methods have to be used, such as .12-gauge bean-bag rounds or pepper spray, these subjects submit very rapidly.


NOPD Special Operations Division Mounted Officers David Gaines and Geanine Cruz consult with a patrol officer who has taken into custody someone experiencing a mental health crisis.

In contrast to this, individuals with bipolar illness may enjoy their manic or depressed phase. Their statements will be more like, "Go away, this does not concern you!" or "Just try and stop me!" Their resistance may be both verbal and physical in nature. A large show of force does not intimidate them; it may in fact give them a sense of power or resolve. More aggressive methods, such as use of bean bag rounds, may actually aggravate bipolar subjects to the point of attempting suicide. This may be an attempt to show the police that no one can control them. The use of pepper spray also appears to have little or no subduing effect, and may also aggravate the situation.

Individuals who suffer from a personality disorder will respond to reason more rapidly than a bipolar subject.


Jim Arey is coordinator of the NOPD Crisis Unit and also a negotiator for the department’s SWAT team.

Conclusion

With the continued closing of the large state mental institutions and the redirection of funds for mental health services, the numbers of individuals who require direct police intervention will continue to increase. Police departments must continue to educate and train their personnel so that they can handle these calls for service in a safe, professional manner.

New Orleans Police Dept. Crisis Unit At A Glance

Mental health techs: 45
Avg. Crisis Unit calls per year: 1,500
SWAT rolls from 1994 to 2000:
   Personality disorder (47.62 percent)
   Bipolar disorder (30.95 percent)
   Schizophrenia (19.05 percent)
For more information: (504) 861-3053

References

  • Sgt. Benjamin J. Glaudi, NOPD Crisis Unit.
  • George Winokur, M.D., Mania and Depression: A Classification of Syndrome and Disease, W.W. Norton and Company, 1991.
  • Jerrold S. Maxmen and Nicholas G. Ward, Essential Psychopathology and Its Treatment (Second Ed.). The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995.
  • Det. Dominick J. Misino, Crisis Negotiation Training, Public Agency Training Council, 2000.
  • Jeff Wellborn,"Responding to Individuals with Mental Illness," FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, Nov. 1999.

The authors of this article are: James B. Arey, Ph.D., NOPD Crisis Unit; Ronal W. Serpas, Ph.D. NOPD Chief of Operations; E. Mitchell Weatherly, NOPD Crisis Unit; Randell Powell, NOPD Crisis Unit

The authors work together as a team on the New Orleans Police Department Crisis Unit.

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Tags: Mentally Ill Subjects, New Orleans PD


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