IMPD officers trained to face mental health crises

Crime in Indianapolis

INDIANAPOLIS — An IMPD officer is recovering from a graze wound suffered when a man grabbed his gun in the holster and fired off a shot on the city’s southeast side Sunday morning.

Officers had been called to the 6500 block of Knobstone Way to assist a man in the midst of a mental health crisis, and while they were waiting for an ambulance to take him to the Eskenazi Mental Health Center, that’s when investigators said he grabbed for the patrolman’s gun.

The man injured his finger, was captured after a short foot chase, hospitalized and now faces four criminal charges.

IMPD’s MCATs (mobile crisis assistance teams) have a specially trained officer and a licensed clinician assigned to respond to just such cases, but not at 2 a.m. on weekends.

“So right now we have four officers, and they work 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.,” said Sgt. Lance Dardeen of IMPD Behavioral Health Services.

Unless the call for help is received during the weekday, Dardeen said it’s up to IMPD officers to utilize the basic mental health first aid skills they’ve been taught.

“They are trained to assess and try to figure out what is the underlying issue going on with the person,” said Dardeen. “We are assessing if a person is a danger to themselves, others or gravely disabled. We’re assessing if they [need] immediate hospitalization or treatment, and we’re also assessing if they have a history of mental illness.”

Dardeen said in the last year, IMPD officers have received additional training in recognizing and dealing with issues regarding autism, veterans challenges and dementia.

“We can’t arrest our way out of this problem, and we’re starting to realize that, and we have for the last couple years,” he said. “So we can divert them away from the criminal justice programs into something more appropriate because just being mentally ill is not a crime.”

Those persons in the midst of a mental health, emotional or substance abuse crisis can voluntarily enter the city’s new Assessment and Intervention Center at the Community Justice Center or accept a ride to the Eskenazi Mental Health Center.

After initial intake, Dardeen said detectives from his unit will do follow up on their case.

“We’re able to follow up with them to make sure that they get connected to the most appropriate resources,” he said. “We try to find out what the issue was that caused that police run, that caused them to get taken to the hospital, and we try to assist them in tearing down those barriers and building bridges to success.”

Dardeen said with a short staff, MCAT still handled 40 runs last week and 96% of its calls result without arrests being made.

“A lot of these types of runs, they have EMS response, they have IFD or fire department response, and they have police response, so if we can have an officer and clinician get there, make sure the scene is safe, then we can try to send all the other units back in service to continue serving the citizens, and we can have the time to sit there, sometimes it’s at the kitchen table for an hour, but it’s better than having a firefighter, a medic and a police officer out of service so we can take over and get that person connected.”

Desma Anderson is the former partner of a man who suffered a mental health crisis last May but aimed a gun at responding IMPD officers and was shot to death in what was determined to be a non-criminal response by the Marion County Prosecutor.

“In this situation, the police were called, but before this situation, he had reached out for help and because he didn’t have insurance, he had to schedule an appointment with a place that would take him in. Some situations require immediate attention,” she said. “It can’t wait. It needs to be done right away.

“With is situation, he took matters into his own hands because he probably felt like, ‘Well, I reached out for help. I need this attention. I need this immediate attention, and since nobody can help me, I’m having this breakdown, and I’m gonna take matters into my own hands.’

“It could have been easily resolved if he would have gotten the help that he cried out for.”

Monolito Ford faced off with IMPD officers after 6 p.m. on a Friday when the MCATs had gone off duty.

“You don’t know a time when a person is gonna have a mental breakdown,” said Anderson. “It can be at 3 in the morning, it can be at 6 in the evening. So they need to come up with a solution where there’s 24-hour help whenever somebody is having a mental breakdown.

“We hear more often now that people are having these mental breakdowns, and some family members are reaching out trying to get people help, but there are certain stipulations where the person has to make their own decision, which that needs to change, because if a person is calling to get a person some help, that mental person should not be making their own decisions. They should come out immediately and help that person.”

Mayor Joe Hogsett has dedicated more funding for mental health services as part of his proposed 2022 city budget while IMPD is beefing up its mental health response resources this year.

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