911 operator: “911, what is the address of your emergency?”
Male: “I’m being attacked! Help!”
911 operator: “Sir, what is your address?”
Male: “Who are you? Why are you calling me?”
911 operator: “What is your address sir?”
Male: “Why are you calling me? I’ll kill you!” Disconnects.
Calls like these, and variations of, happen very frequently in a 911 call center. We will say that this caller was calling from a home address, so we were able to put in the address and a welfare check on this person. It was obvious that the person was emotionally disturbed. Officers need to take very special precautions when approaching people that are in an altered state of reality.
The first reminder is to always gather as much information as possible about the person that you are going to be contacting. Check history of the phone number, the address, and the person (if you have their information). Sometimes they will have an in-house record with a note attached explaining what you are going to be dealing with.
The second reminder is to never let your guard down. Always be aware of the person you are speaking with, their actions, and their surroundings. Research different behaviors of different illnesses so that you can be on the look-out for possible signs of danger or agitation. It’s easier to keep your guard up out in public, but follow your instinct even in hospitals. If you feel they are a danger to themselves and others, stand your ground as far as keeping them in handcuffs or restrained in some way. There have been many cases where handcuffs were removed and the emotionally disturbed person attacked.
The third reminder is to be very patient. It may take longer to resolve the issues at hand, but patience will go a long way in helping an emotionally disturbed person. Always use comforting and calm language. Don’t make sudden movements. The person may have an altered reality to what is going on, and sudden or aggressive movements could trigger them, leading to a higher chance of injury to someone in the vicinity.
The fourth and last reminder is to always go into a situation without any preconceived notions. When you arrive, you may be greeted by a tiny old lady. You may let your guard down because you are a huge man. This could be a costly mistake. Little old ladies can still be swift with a gun or knife or other weapon. Someone in an altered state of mind can also be very strong, stronger than you would expect. Approach each situation as if your life is on the line (this should be the case for all situations you respond to as a police officer).
Emotionally disturbed people and mental health are a misunderstood branch of health in this country. By outfitting yourself with knowledge, and accepting that this is some people’s reality, will allow you to empathize with these people, as well as work towards getting them the help they need.