Editorial: Police agencies should follow Westminster's lead, take One Mind pledge

Good data on the frequency of interactions law enforcement officers have with individuals who are suffering from a mental illness is hard to come by, but anecdotally, these types of interactions do seem to be on the rise. Some police departments estimate as many as 20 percent of calls for service involve a mental health issue in some way.

Police are often called by business owners or community members who want law enforcement to “do something” about a person who may be guilty of committing low-level, misdemeanor crimes or exhibiting nuisance behavior, such as loitering or public drunkenness, according to a 2012 report from the Council of State Governments Justice Center. These types of interactions occur in communities across the country every day, from large cities to rural villages, and every place in between, like Carroll County.


Often, these encounters end in use of force. “Research consistently finds at least 25 percent of those persons killed by police in the United States were affected by mental illness,” according to a post by Louis M. Dekmar in The Police Chief magazine from November 2017.

Because of this, the International Association of Chiefs of Police launched the One Mind Campaign “to ensure successful interactions between police officers and persons affected by mental illness,” according to language outlined in the pledge for law enforcement agencies, and get communities, public safety and mental health organizations to start working together and becoming “of one mind.”

Recently, the Westminster Police Department became the first in the state to meet the requirements among the seven agencies that have taken the pledge.

Chief of Police Jeff Spaulding told us it was important Westminster be part of the campaign because “of the prevalence of these calls in the city and the need to ensure that officers are handling them in a safe and effective manner which optimizes the potential of a positive outcome for everyone involved.”

To complete the One Mind pledge, Westminster police had to establish a clearly defined and sustainable partnership with one or more community mental health organizations; develop and implement a model policy addressing police response to persons affected by mental illness; train and certify 100 percent of the agency’s sworn officers and selected nonsworn staff, such as dispatchers, in Mental Health First Aid or another equivalent mental health awareness program, and provide Crisis Intervention Team training to a minimum of 20 percent of the agency’s sworn officers.

Some of these steps had already been in place. Westminster had, in collaboration with the Health Department and the Carroll chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, initiated the Carroll County Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) in November 2014. More recently, it helped with the implementation of the Mobile Crisis Team.

By doing these things, the Westminster Police Department’s officers are better suited to respond to an individual who may be having a mental health crisis.

We would encourage all of Carroll County’s law enforcement agencies to consider following in Westminster’s footsteps, taking the One Mind pledge and following through to better prepare respond to these situations as well.