Albuquerque Police Department Uses AHRQ Resources for Crisis Intervention Team Training

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In 2016, Albuquerque Police Department (APD) became the first law enforcement agency in the Nation to train its officers through videoconferencing with psychiatrists, based on the AHRQ-funded Project ECHO (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes) learning model. Since then, there has been an increased focus on making mental health referrals instead of arrests, and an increasing number of agencies are participating in the project.

Albuquerque police officers received mental health and crisis intervention team training via videoconference with University of New Mexico School of Medicine clinicians. Of 2,064 crisis intervention-related incidents that occurred from January through November 2016 in the city, APD officers identified the need to refer about 78 percent of the individuals for mental health evaluation and followup care instead of making an arrest.

Daniel J. Duhigg, D.O., associate professor of psychiatry at the University of New Mexico and medical director for the Crisis Intervention Training ECHO, explained, "Our goal is to help law enforcement officials develop and implement specialized responses to individuals who are in mental health crisis and facilitate access to community-based services in order to improve the outcomes for those individuals."

"The collaboration between law enforcement and medical personnel has been amazing. The training has focused attention to instances when jail diversion is appropriate, because the individual has mental health issues that need to be addressed," he said.

The videoconferencing training has been popular, as attendance among organizations had tripled in the first year. When APD launched the Crisis Intervention Team Knowledge Network Project in January 2016, members of nine local area police departments attended the weekly videoconferencing clinics. By year end, attendance had grown to 27 law enforcement and rescue agency members across New Mexico and others from Oregon, Washington, and New York.

Project ECHO is a knowledge-sharing, distance-based telehealth network model for implementing best practices in disease management. Project ECHO began in 2003 by assisting rural physicians who obtained evaluations of their patients' medical condition from clinicians at the University of New Mexico. The driving force behind the creation of Project ECHO was Sanjeev Arora, M.D., a University of New Mexico professor of medicine.

During the videoconferences with psychiatrists, officers receive training on topics such as bipolar disorder, substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, and autism. The training helps to prepare officers for situations they are likely to encounter during patrols. APD records show that crisis intervention-related incidents increased nearly 60 percent from 2010 to 2016.

"Law enforcement personnel don’t usually have access to resources that prepare them for interacting with people living with mental illness," noted APD Detective Matthew Tinney. "In addition to providing expert medical advice, these weekly, 90-minute videoconference clinics give officers an opportunity to describe situations they’ve handled and discuss communications and discuss de-escalation techniques."

Det. Tinney continued, "By receiving training from the University of New Mexico clinicians, our officers can learn about the best practices to use for helping someone who, for example, may be suicidal and out of control due to drug use."

"The videoconference clinics are highly participatory and enlightening," said Nils A. Rosenbaum, M.D., an APD psychiatrist. "They provide an open, safe forum where officers can bounce ideas off one another about what worked well for them in certain situations or what didn’t work. This helps prepare them to know how to interact effectively with the community."