IMPD hopes mental health tools divert people from jail to resources

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- Ten Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department Officers are using a unique tool to help them know whether a person is in need of mental health or substance abuse help. It's part of a pilot project between IMPD, the Indianapolis Office of Public Health and Safety, and New York University’s Criminal Justice Innovation Lab.

The program was introduced to the officers in December. They recently completed phase one of the testing, which allowed officers to ask questions to people they came in contact with via emergency calls. The questions ranged from areas like health care, medication and housing.

"If someone does not need to be in jail or the criminal justice system is not the solution, that's going to help the person who is suffering from whatever the issue is," Lt. Catherine Cummings said of getting help for people. "We want to have them connected and have the resources that are limited, all of our resources are limited, and we want to use them in the best way that we can."

Officers will access the tool from a smart device. As people answer the questions, it will give the officer a red or green flag to let them know whether this person is suffering from a disorder and should be redirected from the criminal justice system.

"If you have a mental health or a substance abuse issue, there is not much about the criminal justice environment that's going to make that better," Lena Hackett with Community Solutions Inc. said. Community Solutions is working with the city on criminal justice system reform. "You're entering into a system that wasn't built for folks who are fragile."

Now that the officers are finished with phase one, they are talking with developers about the questions and whether they were effective and clear.

"Our only guidance to them has been use it on everyone you encounter unless it's an issue of public safety," Hackett said.

This tool can be used in any criminal call officers respond to. Developers say the only inappropriate time to use it is if it's a public safety issue.

If IMPD uses this tool in the future after completion, they will take the people they divert from the criminal justice system to the Assessment Intervention Center. It will be located on the future Community Justice Center campus.

"That will be staffed by mental health professionals who will be able to see what's going on," Hackett said.

IMPD does not know exactly when this tool will officially launch. They begin the next phase of testing soon.

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