The legacy of slavery and other systemic tools of racial control
continues to impact the mental health of Black people. The
internal problems resulting from social oppression causes
many to live in a perpetual state of crisis. Outcomes are
rarely positive as we encounter law enforcement while trying
to live crisis to crisis.
To understand, we only
have to look to several recent officer-involved shootings of
African Americans attempting to navigate the treacherous
road through crisis, struggle, and recovery. Survival on
this difficult journey is nearly impossible without adequate
social support and leading-edge crisis intervention.
In my last column, I
discussed Lucas County’s Crisis Intervention program (CIT).
Law enforcement officers are trained to effectively manage
interactions with people they encounter who might have
mental health, substance abuse, or developmental issues.
The program has flourished
in Lucas County, and everyone—including the public and law
enforcement officers—is better for it.
At the end of the column,
I also said that it’s essential to keep pushing and fighting
for a better and more equitable crisis-response system.
In that effort, it is
vital to keep our eyes on what is happening in other
Several cities are
implementing “co-responder” programs, where police,
emergency response, and mental health professionals respond
together. These cities include Chicago and San Antonio.
Others take it a step
further and are pilot-testing responses in which there might
be no police response at all, based on the situation.
Denver has established the
STAR program. STAR stands for Support Team Assistance
Response and consists of a medic and a clinician available
to respond to calls involving mental health, substance
abuse, or developmental issues. The doctor and clinician
provide a third option for dispatchers when directing the
response to situations like this.
The Denver program is a
pilot, but in the first six months STAR was able to respond
to 748 calls, none of which required police assistance and
in which no arrests were made. The analysis shows that when
the program is fully expanded, it could reduce police calls
Denver’s STAR program is
modeled after a similar program in Eugene, Oregon. Also,
New York City is piloting the program in specific
Notably, the programs
(Oregon’s CAHOOTS program specifically), require responders
to have 500 hours de-escalation training rather than the 40
hours required for Lucas County’s CIT program.
These models train
officers to both control a situation and protect property.
The models also help crisis responders emphasize the dignity
of the whole person and prevent a response from police “with
an axe to grind and ‘protect’ religious cathedrals,” as a
local pastor explained.
For sure, a nonpolice unit
working alongside police will help see/respond to things
from more than a single perspective.
Finally, it is the element
of collaboration that genuinely stands out in all of the
models. In a large sense, the programs and systems we
develop are only as good as the community that stands behind
them. When a unified community addresses these
problems—from law enforcement and first responders to
clinicians to grassroots community leaders—we have the
opportunity for real progress.
The STAR and CAHOOTS
programs are examples of this kind of collaboration. So is
the CIT program I wrote about last week and the new crisis
services system, also here in Lucas County, that I wrote
about the week before.
My point is not to
advocate for a specific program. However, I urge our
community to build on the good things we are doing now and
continue to stand united for progress and mental health
It is a call that we can
no longer disregard.
Contact Rev. Donald Perryman, D.Min, at