Insist on IMPD’s improved mental health response teams

INDIANAPOLIS – The recent release of IMPD camera footage showing the death in custody of a man suffering from mental health problems has rekindled pressure from community leaders for change.

“People who need help don’t need handcuffs,” said Pastor Darian Bui, chairman of the state clergy team at Faith In Indiana. “I think this situation speaks volumes about the need for a team based on clinicians to work with IMPD.”

On Tuesday, the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police distributed footage from the body’s camera after the death of a man in their custody in April 2022.

Herman Whitfield III’s parents called 911 on April 25, asking dispatchers for help with their 39-year-old son, who “had an episode.” On a 911 call released by police, Herman Whitfield can be heard screaming in the background as his mother tries to provide information to a dispatcher.

Police were dispatched to Whitfield’s home around 3:20 a.m., much later, when the IMPD’s Mobile Crisis Assistance Team (MCAT) usually answered mental health calls.

“It simply came to our notice then [MCATs] work from about 7:30 [in the morning] until 6pm, Monday to Friday, “said IMPD chief Randall Taylor. “This is a group that is specially trained to work with people who are going through a mental health crisis.”

The MCAT consists of nine teams, each with one IMPD staff member and one mental health clinician. Both the clinician and the IMPD employee answer mental health calls, but teams are not available 24/7.

“It’s not difficult for us to find officers who would be interested in this, but they are also willing to work these late hours of the night or on the weekends,” said Chief Taylor. “We can provide the employee, but you must also have a clinician. So I don’t think clinicians are usually used to working at night.

MCAT was established in 2017 and the program is in partnership with Health and Hospital Corporation, which manages Eskenazi Hospital. Chief Taylor said he was open to expanding the MCAT program, either through staff or hours, but said hiring problems remained the biggest obstacle.

“The public often tells us that someone other than law enforcement is responding to mental health crises, and we have no objections to that, but unfortunately there is no one to step up to take that place. So, if some of these people can be found and want to do that, then we will certainly accept the idea, “said Chief Taylor.

Faith leaders with Faith in Indiana were vocal in bringing something new to the table. They are now working with the city to potentially introduce a new, clinician-led response team in Indianapolis.

“I think the orders should come first from those who have the most experience in this matter,” said Pastor Bui. “Clinic-led teams must give orders to the police on how to react so that we can minimize the possibility of escalation.”

According to the Public Health and Safety Administration, Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett has agreed to work with community leaders to help secure the money needed to build a pilot response program led by clinicians.

“We don’t have that budget yet, we’re working on that element right now,” said Lauren Rodriguez, director of the Public Health and Safety Service. “We are trying to build the basis of what it will look like, how we can hire people, what their salaries will be, what their working hours are. Because we want to do it 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. So we’re trying to work through that right now. “

Pastor Bui said he was happy to have the support of the city, but the recent death in custody heightened the urgency.

“I like that he got the green light, but now it has to be done so that things like this don’t continue to happen,” Pastor Bui said. “Now it’s a matter of making sure we put our money where we talk, so to speak, making sure we put boots on the ground, a pen on paper – whatever analogy or terminology you use for it – that’s a problem which requires immediate attention and we will know when it will get the attention it deserves, because what we see we will no longer see. “

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