It’s not a secret held close to the peers’ collective chest that peers sometimes run into criminal trouble when experiencing the severe symptoms of a full-on, full-force, and full-blown crisis situation. At these magical times, law enforcement are often called to assist a peer. And some of these magical times, peers are transported to inpatient service rather than criminal incarceration. Score. Bonus score.
Things get a little iffy at this point. Let’s say a peer is in crisis with some regularity. And let’s say the peer pings on the law enforcement radar with some regularity. There is an idea that these peers require being on a “special list” so responding officers are aware this peer is a frequent flyer. In addition, MOUs (Memorandum Of Understanding) are attempted so psych providers can share HIPAA protected information with law enforcement. This is requested in the hopes of better serving peers.
The thing about it is not every peer wants their mental health information at the ready for responding officers, and peers really aren’t thrilled about providers sharing their information with law enforcement. Want proof? Check out this article on the Topeka Police Department’s “Premise Alert” program.
Constitutional academic arguments aside, the problem with a program like the Premise Alert is it’s very easy for foreknowledge to become forewarning. Not every crisis situation is like the last. Every crisis is entirely unique as is every peer is unique. As is every person is unique. Foreknowledge or forewarning? Is it any surprise that the volunteer Premise Alert has no volunteers?
When I brought up the Premise Alert at an MHRAC meeting in 2016, the idea was met with nods of agreement, that the Premise Alert made good sense and peers should support such an initiative in Albuquerque. So, yeah, I didn’t bring it up as a suggestion. I brought it up as what the Albuquerque Police Department should be avoiding. The idea is de-escalation, that’s the training I developed for APD’s Crisis Intervention Training. Having peers on a list easily referenced by responding law enforcement is a threat to peer safety, not a benefit to peer safety. The Premise Alert works entirely contrary to everything I was training APD to understand about the peer experience.
There was still confusion amongst the MHRAC Muggles. What is Steve saying? Won’t peers feel safer if officers knew they had mental health issues? Wouldn’t peers want the police to have this information ahead of time? No matter which vector I attempted in explanation, my reasoning was met with skepticism or outright hostility. So I decided to come at it with some Word Art.
An almost immediate motion was made by an MHRAC member. Immediate.
The motion was quickly seconded and was voted upon by Muggles who apparently took issue with my metaphor. Score. Bonus score. They found the terminology offensive. Finally. I was able to get them to understand the peer experience and what the idea of law enforcement keeping referenced information on prior contacts on hand when responding to a mental health crisis. My response . . .
Here is my full response shared with the Topeka Capital-Journal:
Tag & Release. Foreknowledge versus Forewarning. Uncomfortable truths. You’re welcome.