Local police utilize social workers to help ease tense situations, get help for mentally ill

BY HENRI ROBBINS
Loveland Local News

MIAMI TOWNSHIP (CLERMONT COUNTY), Ohio — In response to an influx of mental health-related calls in Miami Township, their police department has been working with Clermont County’s Mobile Crisis Team to regularly have a responder on-call. Other departments use crisis intervention and de-escalation as critical tools in keeping officers and citizens safe.

© 2021 Loveland Local News. Photo by Joe Wessels/LLN Laura Stith, right, and Samantha Logan work with Miami Township Police to help de-escalate crisis situations. Logan actually works within the department. Stith works for Child Focus, a Clermont County-based child welfare agency. Photo was taken at Child Focus in Clermont County.

The Mobile Crisis Team is a group organized by Child Focus, a Clermont County organization focused on providing family-based mental health services. The team partners with police departments within the county to provide mental health professionals to accompany police officers when responding to certain calls.

Chief Clinical Officer and Behavioral Health Division Officer Laura Stith said the team was formed after their mobile crisis hotline began regularly receiving calls they felt could benefit from an in-person responder, along with local law enforcement being called regularly to situations they did not feel equipped to handle.

“Law enforcement was taking a lot of calls for alleged criminal complaints, but they were finding out that the complaints were really not criminal in nature at all; the individuals were suffering from some kind of mental illness, or from a substance use disorder,” Stith said. “The police officers were really not feeling like they were the best people to be responding to those situations, so the mobile crisis team was born.”

In 2018, police fatally shot approximately 1,000 people. Of those, about 25 percent involved people with mental illness, according to The Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law.

Samantha Logan, a social worker with master’s degrees in social work and criminal justice, has been working with the mobile crisis team for five years. Currently, she works with the Miami Township Police Department as a full-time responder.

Logan first started working at the department after the team noticed Miami Township utilized their services more than any other area within the county. Because of this, they worked with the department to have a responder consistently on-call.

“Somebody showing up to a scene that is not a uniformed police officer who can talk to someone, who doesn’t have an air of authority… that in and of itself can really de-escalate situations and de-escalate people,” Logan said.

The Loveland Police Department has been avid crisis intervention and de-escalation supporters for at least a decade, including a recent training with the Force Science Institute, an Illinois-based behavioral science and human dynamics research and training center for public safety agencies and hosted a national training here in Loveland, according to Police Chief Dennis Sean Rahe.

“We actively participate in the crisis intervention strategies with the mobile crisis teams in Hamilton, Clermont, and Warren counties,” Rahe said in an email. “We were part of the very first crisis intervention training class in Clermont County in 2011. In fact, all Loveland officers are required to attend training in crisis intervention techniques.”

According to a 2014 study published in Psychiatric Services, officers trained in crisis intervention were significantly more likely to refer or transport someone experiencing a mental disorder or psychiatric episode than to arrest them – or worse.

Responding to these calls, Stith said one of their main focuses is safety planning to make sure the person is not a harm to themselves or those around them. Along with this, there is a focus on working to better the situations of those in crisis.

The Miami Township Police Department’s most frequent calls are for people experiencing suicidal thoughts or psychosis. In responding to these calls, her main priorities are ensuring the safety of the person and providing access to both short- and long-term resources.

“Many of these people need mental health treatment, or they need substance use disorder treatment,” Stith said. “Our crisis workers can ensure that connection with those agencies occurs. But sometimes they need other resources, sometimes they need housing, or they need help with paying electric bills, or they need assistance with finding health care, and [responders] work with them for all those kinds of needs.”

Dealing with these situations, Logan said each case requires a different response and set of priorities.

“Suicidal [cases] are fairly easy,” Logan said. “We’re looking at whether you’re currently suicidal right now, if you have a plan to kill yourself, if you have access to means, and if you have the intention to follow through with it. Psychosis is a little more difficult. We’re looking at, if you believe people are after you: Are you planning on harming them first before they harm you? Are you engaging in any kind of maladaptive behaviors to kind of keep yourself safe? It gets a little more difficult.”

© 2021 Loveland Local News. Photo by Joe Wessels/LLN Laura Stith, left, and Samantha Logan work with Miami Township Police to help de-escalate crisis situations. Logan actually works within the department. Stith works for Child Focus, a Clermont County-based child welfare agency. Photo was taken at Child Focus in Clermont County.

Treating psychosis, Logan said the biggest priority is not whether their beliefs are real or imaginary, but instead the person’s actions and responses.

“The biggest concern to me is how you are handling these beliefs,” Logan said. “So, if you believe that there’s a government conspiracy to kill you, how are you coping with that? How are you handling that? I’m not here to challenge what you believe. I’m not here to tell you that you’re wrong and these things are not actually happening, because you’re not going to believe me anyway. We’re really focusing on how are you dealing with this, and how are you coping with this? Whether it’s actually happening or not is not really my biggest concern.”

Before, Logan said officers would likely bring those in distress to the hospital both due to lack of training and to avoid liability. Having a mental health professional present, Logan said it’s possible for responders to properly help a person and/or provide them with proper resources.

Working with the department, Logan said she is also able to provide officers with her own perspectives on criminal justice and addiction, helping them to approach situations in ways they wouldn’t likely consider otherwise.

“When you see addiction over and over again and you arrest the same people over and over and over again, that can get very frustrating,” Logan said. “I can talk about how childhood trauma can lead to addiction and things like that. We’re able to have a really good open discussion so maybe when [they’re] out with these people and [they’re] arresting them maybe [they] won’t get so frustrated if [they] understand a little more about where they’re coming from.”

Working constantly with mental health issues can be high-stress, Logan said. Dealing with this, she often talks to the officers she works with.

“Officers are right there with me, they’re seeing what’s happening, so we’ll definitely have a chance afterward to talk about what happened and process it,” Logan said. “That’s how I de-stress. I need to talk about the craziness that happened.”

Last Updated on August 24, 2021 by Joe Wessels

About Henri Robbins 3 Articles
Henri Robbins is a reporter for Loveland Local News. He writes news and feature articles and has a particular knack for uncovering unusual, less-talked-about stories - albeit fascinating - that are right under our noses. A graduate of Mason High School, where he was on the student newspaper staff and covered that district's elected school board with noticeable dexterity, Robbins is now attending Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. He is also a member of the Miami student newspaper staff. His articles appear occasionally in Loveland Local News.