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Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024

Our Community’s Unaffordable Costs


Crisis Coalition coordinates mental health initiatives

Recently, a homeless lady in our community was sitting on the sidewalk with all her belongings in the wee hours of the morning. She wasn’t trespassing, disturbing the peace or breaking any law, but a concerned citizen made a 911 call. A police officer arrived, but he could not offer the mental health services that she desperately needed.

First responders come to our rescue when we need them. Law enforcement officers, firefighters or EMTs arrive with help when there is a threat to health or safety. Yet, for some emergencies, a different type of first responder is needed.

Hundreds of local 911 calls every month are related to a mental health crisis. Having no other option, these kinds of calls have been handled by our local law enforcement agencies in the past. But most officers will tell you they are ill-equipped to respond to mental illness. They are well-trained to respond to criminal behavior but not mental health problems. If an officer cannot resolve the issue at the scene, they have only two options: take the person to jail or the hospital. For either one, a person must be handcuffed and taken to a place they do not want to go.

When taken into custody, the fight-or-flight response is triggered in a person already in distress. The result is an increased safety risk for officers and citizens, which may culminate in using force, even with the best intentions. And in most cases, the initial call was not even based on criminal behavior.

A law enforcement response does not fit the need for mental health treatment. Even with the best of intentions by an officer, the limited response options of arrest or hospitalization may intensify the distress response and cause further harm. And in the worst-case scenarios, fatalities have occurred.

The costs of this imperfect system are unaffordable to our community – not only in terms of dollars and cents but, more importantly, human lives. Our first responders and citizens have long needed a better system. Other options do exist, but until recently, they have not been available in our community.

The Shreveport Crisis Response Coalition has been working to improve the status quo. For the last three years, the Shreveport Police Department has worked with LSU Health Shreveport and many other community partners to create a safer and more effective response system. SPD has provided Crisis Intervention Training to hundreds of officers and now has a dedicated team to train other local jurisdictions. In addition, plans are in place for mental health counselors to be available to respond to scenes where mental health treatment can be offered immediately in a person’s home or community.

This community-based crisis mental health response ensures public safety, delivers effective treatment and provides an alternative to arrest or hospitalization where appropriate. Thanks to the leadership of Mayor Tom Arceneaux, LSU Health Shreveport Chancellor Dr. David Guzick, LSU Health Shreveport Chair of Psychiatry & Behavioral Medicine Dr. James Patterson, Shreveport Police Department Chief Wayne Smith, Caddo Sheriff Steve Prator, and many other stakeholders, an action plan has been developed to ensure that these crisis response system reforms are both successful and sustainable.

This joint effort to improve public policy is an example of interagency collaboration at its finest. Our community is now able to care for our most vulnerable citizens in a more dignified and humane manner, and our overtaxed law enforcement officers can devote their limited resources to serious criminal behavior. When we or our loved ones need mental health support, we now have a new kind of first responder hero to come to our aid. Crisis mental health teams can provide the calming response and treatment that the lady on the sidewalk desperately needed.

With more creative and collaborative solutions such as this, Northwest Louisiana is a safer place. We can meet the needs of our citizens and eliminate unaffordable costs. When we do this, we all reap the benefits.

Laura Alderman, LPC -S, LMFT, NCC, is the Institute for Childhood Resilience director at LSU Health Shreveport.


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