Poll: Most Americans Don’t Want Police as First Responders to Mental Health Crises

Poll: Most Americans Don't Want Police as First Responders to Mental Health Crises Poll: Most Americans Don't Want Police as First Responders to Mental Health Crises (Dreamstime.com)

By Theodore Bunker | Monday, 15 November 2021 06:16 PM

The majority of Americans want mental health professionals to be the first responders to a mental health crisis rather than law enforcement, according to a new poll from Ipsos.

The poll, which was commissioned by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI, found that while almost three-in-four respondents hold a favorable view of the police, about four-in-five think that mental health professionals, not police, should be the first responders to emergency situations involving mental health or suicide.

  • 72% hold a favorable view of police.
  • 80% said that mental health professionals should be the primary first responders to a mental health or suicide crisis rather than police.

According to The Washington Post, about of quarter of the people who were shot and killed by police officers from 2015 to 2020 were suffering from mental illness, and of those about a third were non-white.

NAMI CEO Daniel Gillison Jr. said in a statement that “lives will be saved” by making the switch to make mental health professionals the priority responders.

“By responding to a mental health crisis with mental health professionals, lives will be saved and people in crisis can get the right care when they need it most,” he said. “Mental illness is complicated and crisis care requires a broad continuum of crisis services, including culturally competent care, that can connect people with services in the community. This survey shows that we have an opportunity — and broad desire — to provide better mental health crisis care and reduce our dependence on law enforcement to respond to mental health crises. We call policymakers to reimagine crisis response so everyone in crisis gets an effective response and is treated with dignity and respect.”

NAMI’s interim director of government relations Hannah Wesolowski told The Hill that the creation of the 988 suicide crisis hotline similar to the standard emergency number has provided an “unprecedented opportunity” to increase access to mental health services during an emergency.

“It's really on all of us, the public policy makers, to act to make sure that when somebody calls for help, there's actually care available on the other end of the line, and we're not just providing an easier number to access a law enforcement response," she said.

“This isn't law enforcement's fault,” she added. “It's not the position that they signed up for, and we should not be putting our law enforcement professionals in the position of having to respond to a person in crisis.”

The poll also found almost universal support, 90%, for the establishment of 24/7 call centers that would provide assistance on matters of mental health, addiction, and suicide. It also found strong support, 85% and 84%, respectively, for funding 988 call centers and response services with state and federal funds.

Wesolowski said that “if we don't do that, we're continuing to provide a law enforcement response and people will cycle in and out of jails, emergency rooms, homelessness or worse.”