|IACP Public Information Officer Section Midyear meeting,|
Toronto, Canada, May 2010
Department of Justice Accepting Award Nominations
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Assistance is currently accepting nominations for the Public Safety Officer Medal of Valor (MOV). The MOV is the highest national award that can be bestowed upon civilian public safety officers and is awarded by the president of the United States to officers who have exhibited extraordinary valor above and beyond the call of duty.
Under the provisions of the Public Safety Officer Medal of Valor Act, up to five awards will be presented each year. To be considered for the 2010 MOV, an officer must be nominated for actions that occurred between June 1, 2009, and May 31, 2010. Nominations must be submitted online by the chief or director of the officer’s employing department and must be received by the DOJ no later than 8:00 p.m. eastern time on July 31, 2010. The Medal of Valor Review Board, comprised of current and former state and local public safety officials, will consider all nominations meeting submission requirements and recommend award recipients.
For more information about the MOV, please visit www.ojp.usdoj.gov/medalofvalor.
Mental Health First Aid Defuses Crises
Mental Health First Aid is an education program that helps professionals to identify, understand, and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance-use disorders. Mental Health First Aid USA is managed, operated, and disseminated by three national authorities: the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare, the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and the Missouri Department of Mental Health.
Recently, police in Rhode Island turned to the Mental Health First Aid training initiative after several highly publicized incidents ended tragically when officers used deadly force on suspects with mental illnesses. Mental Health First Aid training gives officers more response options to de-escalate incidents and avoid tragic outcomes.
“The new training helps our officers better understand people with mental illnesses so they [the police] can respond appropriately without compromising safety,” said Chief Anthony Silva, executive director of the Municipal Police Training Academy in Rhode Island.
Chief Silva said the training—a 12-hour certification course offered to help average citizens respond to psychiatric emergencies until professional help arrives—had to be tailored to include the police perspective along with the mental health perspective.
“Police have to learn more than the signs and symptoms of mental illness,” said Lieutenant Joseph Coffey, who initiated the training at the police department in Warwick, Rhode Island. “Police officers need to look at the total situation while considering how to avoid injury to themselves and to the person in crisis.”
The training was introduced to Rhode Island police officers in 2008 when Lieutenant Coffey teamed up with Carole Bernardo, a certified Mental Health First Aid instructor, at Gateway Healthcare—one of seven pilot locations in the United States for the program. More than 200 officers in Rhode Island have now received the tailored mental health training.
“Part of the training involves the officers listening to tapes of voices, similar to voices a person with mental illness may hear in his head,” said Bernardo. “That’s often a turning point for officers, when they realize what a person with serious mental illness may be experiencing when trying to respond to questions [from police].”
The training became applicable recently when Warwick police responded to a man with schizophrenia who had barricaded himself in his apartment after breaking into a neighbor’s house. In the past, the police response may have been a dynamic entry to effect the arrest, however in gathering information from the man’s family members and a neighbor familiar with the man’s condition, the responding officers utilized their mental health training and defused the situation within an hour. Instead of taking the man to the cell block and potentially triggering another incident, police instead sent the man to a hospital for evaluation.
“We’re finding that Mental Health First Aid is not only helping police officers better identify the signs of mental illness, but also improves their knowledge and understanding of mental illnesses,” said Linda Rosenberg, president and chief executive officer of the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare. She added that the training has the potential to become as common as first aid and CPR. “We hope the training will reduce the stigma of mental illness and addiction and help people understand that the illness is real, common, and treatable.”
Rosenberg said community mental health organizations across the nation are replicating Rhode Island’s success by offering the Mental Health First Aid program to local law enforcement and corrections officers.
The effectiveness of Mental Health First Aid has been proven in randomized trials. One trial of 301 randomized participants found that those certified in Mental Health First Aid had greater confidence in providing help to others, greater likelihood of advising people to seek professional help, improved concordance with health professionals about treatments, and decreased stigmatizing attitudes. Unexpectedly, the study also found that the program improved the mental health of the participants.
Information about Mental Health First Aid is at http://www.MentalHealthFirstAid.org.
Hazardous Materials Preparedness: Training for All-Hazards Response
By Shannon Arledge, Center for Domestic Preparedness, Public Affairs, Anniston, AlabamaThe recent botched attempt to discharge explosive material in New York City’s Times Square may leave city leaders across America questioning their own levels of preparedness during an emergency.
The Center for Domestic Preparedness (CDP) in Anniston, Alabama, plays a leading role in preparing cities and local response forces to protect, prevent, deter, and respond to acts of terrorism or major accidents involving hazardous materials.
According to Captain William Brown, from the Minot Police Department, Minot, North Dakota, the Emergency Responder Hazardous Materials Technician (ERHM) course reinforces situational awareness, identifies potential hazards, and emphasizes the need to communicate with other disciplines.
“First responders, especially law enforcement, need to recognize the need for enhanced training regarding first response to hazardous materials,” said Brown. “Whether it is a chemical spill, a train derailment, or a terrorist attack, police officers must recognize the threat is real and their role is vital to ensure any threats to the public are minimized, if not mitigated.”
He added, “I am now better prepared proactively by recognizing potential threats, identifying available resources, and realizing the need to work collectively with other first responders in addressing methods to impact those events, should they occur.”
Released earlier this year, the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review Report stated that, among others, the threats and hazards that challenge U.S. interests include “high-consequence weapons of mass destruction.” The report further specifies that improvised nuclear devices and high-consequence biological weapons would have the greatest potential effects if used against the United States.
The recent failed attempt to kill and maim innocent people in Times Square may be an example of what select individuals are planning in order to disrupt order, create chaos, and instill fear across the nation.
“The ERHM program is relevant to all responders,” said Frank Esposito, acting course manager. “Whether you are a firefighter, a police officer, or an emergency medical technician, all response personnel must have an understanding of identifying and mitigating hazards. This course is a response course, and we teach first responders to respond properly, save lives, protect themselves, and mitigate the scene.”
ERHM is among the many courses offered at the CDP for emergency response personnel. The five-day class provides responders with a combination of lectures and advanced hands-on practical exercises.
The course introduces response personnel to the terrorist threat, the hazardous materials management system, responder health and safety, the Incident Command System, site management, information management, response objectives, and incident termination. The responder receives hands-on training in identifying hazardous materials, using advanced surveying and monitoring equipment, selecting and using the appropriate level of personal protective equipment, and performing decontamination procedures.
“It is a busy week of training,” said Mike Aguilar, CDP training specialist. “But [it is] well worth the time when you consider the importance of having a well-trained hazardous materials technician in hometown America. The responders from various disciplines attending this course arrive at the CDP with very little or no experience responding to a hazardous materials incident. Graduates of this course return to their jurisdictions better prepared to safely respond to and mitigate a hazmat incident including weapons of mass destruction involving chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive (CBRNE) materials.”
In December 2008, the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism released a unanimous threat assessment, which stated, “Unless the world community acts decisively and with great urgency, it is more likely than not that a weapon of mass destruction will be used in a terrorist attack somewhere in the world by the end of 2013—that weapon is more likely to be biological than nuclear.”
These conclusions make it more evident that response personnel must remain vigilant and skilled with the preparedness knowledge to protect the citizens and cities they serve. ERHM provides the necessary training to prepare response personnel to tackle hazardous incidents.
The CDP is the only facility operated by the federal government for civilian training in CBRNE events. The CDP fully funds all training, including airfare, lodging, and meals.
The CDP is a component of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s National Training and Education Division in the Department of Homeland Security. The Anniston training center is the nation’s only federally chartered weapons of mass destruction training facility for civilian responders.
Learn more about the CDP at http://cdp.dhs.gov.
Housing Options for People Leaving Prison or Jail
Successful prisoner reentry often hinges on individuals finding stable housing that can help them break the cycle of reincarceration. The Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center released a new resource publication, Reentry Housing Options: The Policymakers’ Guide, which provides practical steps that lawmakers and others can take to increase public safety through better access to affordable housing for individuals released to the community.
“Some people wonder why, when housing shortages are so acute, we are focusing on finding suitable housing for people leaving prison and jail. All you need to do is look at recidivism rates among these individuals who lack housing to know that it is a public safety issue—for both supervising them in the community at fixed addresses and for helping them avoid future criminal activity,” said New York State Assemblyman and CSG Justice Center Chair Jeffrion Aubry. “And it is simply the right thing to do so these individuals can be law-abiding, contributing members of families and communities.”
Reentry Housing Options is the result of a project supported by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, U.S. Department of Justice. The guide provides an overview of several commonly accessed housing options, including the benefits and limitations of six of the following options:
- Private-market rentals
- Public housing
- Affordable housing
- Halfway houses
- Supportive housing
- Specialized reentry housing
It also examines three distinct approaches to increasing the availability of these housing options: improving access, increasing housing stock, and revitalizing neighborhoods. Examples are also provided of how each approach has been put into action in these three programs:
- The Housing Authority of the County of Salt Lake (Utah)
- St. Leonard’s Ministries (Chicago, Illinois)
- The New Communities Initiative (Wichita, Kansas)
Reentry Housing Options: The Policymakers’ Guide is available at reentrypolicy.org/jc_publications/reentry-housing-options.
Additional reentry resources can be found at www.nationalreentryresourcecenter.org and www.reentrypolicy.org. ?