Guardianship is most effective when it is proactive not just reactive. When police respond to crimes or crises in the community, the damage in most cases has already been done and our role becomes one of tending to the victims, apprehending suspects, and doing what we can to help put the pieces back together. Fielding calls for service is the backbone of policing and will always require a well-equipped, well-prepared and compassionate response. But it is only one dimension of truly effective guardianship. As community stewards police must do more than simply react. Dedicating police resources to proactive community policing initiatives – to building relationships and cultivating partnerships not only helps us respond more effectively when crimes or crises arise, doing so actually prevents crimes and crises from occurring. It is effective guardianship and the essence of community policing. Case in point: MPD's Mental Health Officer Team.
Since dedicating these officers full time to the proactive work of supporting individuals with mental illness in our community, the Mental Health Officer Team has partnered with a variety of mental health service providers, advocates, families, and consumers, to divert individuals with mental illness from jail and connect them to needed treatment. They have engaged in community meetings, attended and conducted training, developed safety plans, and cultivated areas of specialized systems expertise within their already focused policing approach. One such area of concentrated service within the Mental Health Officer Team was implemented earlier this year with the launch of our Veterans Outreach Program. This program serves to connect MPD military veterans with veterans in the community who have had police contact or who may be experiencing a mental health or substance abuse crisis. The purpose of this program is to provide peer support to veterans, to connect veterans to needed services and to hopefully prevent any future police calls for service.
Through MPD's Veteran Outreach Program, veterans in the community will be paired with an MPD veteran who shares a similar military background. Outreach can be conducted in multiple ways – in the form of home visits, phone calls, and monthly "coffee with a cop" gatherings at the Dry Hootch organization of Madison. Outreach will be coordinated by the Mental Health Officers and may include our in-house crisis worker if needed. The Veterans Outreach Program is completely voluntary. Veterans in the community will only be asked to meet with MPD veterans if they feel comfortable enough to do so and follow-up will only be conducted as needed. Many veterans are already receiving services through the VA Hospital or other community agencies. With MPD's Veteran Outreach Program we hope to compliment these support services by building rapport between veterans and police and we believe that establishing these relationships can assist in de-escalating crisis situations should they arise in the future.
Current areas of specialized focus within our Mental Health Officer Team include:
- Homeless Outreach and Veteran Outreach Program (Officer Andy Naylor)
- Alzheimer's and Dementia; Autism; Crisis Intervention Training (Officer Eugene Woehrle)
- Suicide Prevention and Postvention (Officer Joanna Hollenback)
- Mental Health First Aid; Hoarding Task Force (Officer Carlin Becker)
- Probation and Parole/Re-entry Liaison (Officer Roberta Stellick)
There will always be a need for a 24/7 emergency police response to address crimes and crises as they erupt. And in between calls for service, our patrol officers dedicate their time as well to engaging the community, fostering relationships, and proactively problem-solving a variety of issues. Even so, the primary function of patrol services is to fill that important and necessary role of a first responder. Effective guardianship demands more and community outreach initiatives such as the Mental Health Officer Team are essential proactive community policing/problem-solving strategies that promote effective guardianship and help tip the scales from a purely reactive police response to one aimed at prevention and support. Both are necessary and both combine to help shape the quality of life in our community.
To learn more about these efforts contact Captain Kristen Roman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This blog was authored by our Community Outreach Captain Kristen Roman.