COMMUNITY CRISIS TEAMS: ARE THEY REALLY IN OUR BEST INTERESTS?

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COMMUNITY CRISIS TEAMS: ARE THEY REALLY

IN OUR BEST INTERESTS?

            Given the strained and occasionally deadly nature of the overall relationship between psychiatric survivors and law enforcement agencies, it really begs the question: should the police even become involved in situations where someone is experiencing an emotional or mental crisis?

It never ceases to amaze me how our community can be so acquiescent toward the continued (and escalating) state/psychiatric invasiveness in our lives when we are (to my mind) capable of much greater initiatives in our own behalf.

The much-touted community crisis teams, which pair a male psychiatric nurse with a plainclothes police officer on patrol in several Toronto neighborhoods, are no solution to my mind. On the contrary, these teams are dangerous for a number of reasons.

For one, they do essentially nothing to mitigate the risk of someone suffering serious bodily harm or even death at the hands of the police. The cop in the equation still has access to all the hardware of his own trade – a 9mm Glock, pepper spray, baton and quite possibly a Taser, as well as ETF backup  – which the police culture of violence has trained him to resort to with possibly deadly outcome. Second, these teams enable far greater legal invasive capabilities by psychiatric personnel.

A psychiatric nurse, under ordinary circumstances, has no more right to cross another person’s threshold uninvited than does any other private citizen. By virtue of being in the company of a police officer, this health worker can now simply offer the opinion that a ‘medical emergency’ exists within the premises in question, after which the cop can utilize his own ‘discretion’ in dealing with the situation – by kicking the door in. Presto-changeo – the nurse now has a legal ‘in’ where none existed before.

On top of that, we need to factor in the insensitivity regarding gender, culture and sexual orientation so frequently demonstrated by both the police and ‘mental health’ professionals, which can further complicate situations.

What’s wrong with this picture? And what needs to be done instead?

For starters, rather than resorting to involvement by law enforcement (or psychiatry) when someone is in crisis, we need trained teams composed of members of our own communities who can intervene in a non-violent manner by de-escalating potentially threatening situations and offering mediation,  referrals to community resources or merely a sympathetic ear. First contact can be made by telephone or in person in a safe neutral space without threatening the safety or sanctity of someone’s home.

Another helpful initiative would be the establishment of small, neighborhood-based, hassle-free crisis facilities that would operate on a walk-in basis and be staffed by trained members of the psychiatric survivor community. Such centres could offer a safe place where a distressed person could find someone to talk to, a few hours’ uninterrupted sleep, a hot meal or a portal for accessing other community resources.

Then there are other ideas such as survivor-run housing co-operatives, retreat centres and longer-term intentional communities – the possibilities are virtually endless. The only limits are within our own imaginations.

Given the alternatives we are capable of creating for ourselves, there is no sense in continuing to sanction potentially violent state/psychiatric intervention in the lives of frightened, angry, lonely, distraught human beings. An approach rooted in consent, respect, compassion and the potential for genuine healing must be the way of the future.