Advocates Urge More Training for Cleveland Police in Handling Mental Health Issues

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The Justice Department’s finding of routine excessive force by city police included encounters with the mentally ill. The report said even calls to check someone’s welfare too often escalated into violence.

To remedy that, a group of mental health advocates convened by Cuyahoga County’s mental health services agency is urging that more officers become crisis intervention specialists. Mayor Frank Jackson has promised to make this kind of training mandatory for all officers within three years.

The group wants citizen oversight of police mental health response, expanded treatment facilities, and better coordination between health care providers, emergency dispatchers, and law enforcement.

Bill Denihan chaired the Mental Health Task Force. He says better communication between agencies is key, "so that we can provide better mental health and addiction services, so this doesn’t keep ending up as a 911 call," he said.

Denihan said sick but harmless people need to be directed out of the criminal justice system and into treatment. And he said follow-up is needed to make sure people get help after brushes with the law.

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