13:12 PM

How to Interact Effectively with Authorities during Behavioral Crisis

Dr. Aaron PomerantzRecently, Dr. Aaron Pomerantz, University of St. Thomas-Houston assistant professor of Psychology, served as a featured expert in a session called "How to Interact Effectively with Authorities during Behavioral Crisis." Pomerantz is an expert on psychology and the law.

“While some of this information is very specific to the parents and caretakers of IDD individuals, there's also just a lot of information about how to best interact with the police that people should be more aware of,” Pomerantz said.

As he discussed how to interact effectively with police during behavioral crises, he stressed the importance of having concrete plans, going over specific concerns that the police might have and that parents need to plan for, and recommended particular resources for parents regarding their rights when dealing with police officers, CPS, and other government entities. 

His advice is to "Know your rights, establish good relationships with the police, and practice confident responses in the face of stress."

"Many people are between perpetually expecting the worst, so they are perpetually anxious and stressed, or they never really even consider that the worst could happen and are unprepared when a crisis occurs," he said. 

Pomerantz defines a behavioral crisis in psychological terms as behaviors resulting from a mental condition or disorder that are not considered acceptable within the broader community and pose some disruption. 

He then gives the legal definition from the Harris County Sheriff's Office.

A situation where behavioral health challenges threaten an individual's safety and health includes mental illness, substance abuse, medical conditions, situational stress, and developmental disabilities. A crisis can involve an individual's perception or experience of an event or situation as an intolerable difficulty that exceeds the individual's current resources and coping mechanisms and may include unusual stress in their life that renders them unable to function as they usually would, which may make them a danger to self or others.

Pomerantz notes, "An important distinction in the Sheriff's office definition is that idea of 'danger to self or others.' It is a law enforcement officer's responsibility and duty to assess the risk present to others in a situation. That includes when they are called in to deal with a child, young adult, or adult who is having a behavioral crisis.” 

Pomerantz's tips on how to interact effectively with police during a behavioral crisis include:

  • Make sure there is a record. In Texas, for instance, there are special needs registries. Having your child registered on them ensures there will be documentation and contact with the police, who might be more likely to know your child has special needs.
  • It is vital not to fall prey to the “illusion of transparency,” the cognitive bias in which we assume people will understand and see our “true” motives and the motives of those around us. Very often, that is not the case.  
  • Be realistic and empathetic to how others in the situation will respond, again, especially police officers. Empathy is not acceptance or endorsement, but it is essential to be realistic about how others will react and think about your loved ones, especially during a behavioral crisis. 
  • Also, please do not assume the cops know what they are doing when working with IDD individuals. Yes, training is getting better, but there are many stigmas out there about mental illness and differently abled individuals, including in the law enforcement community.
  • Make sure communication is unambiguous. Especially with what behaviors an older child or adult with IDD can exhibit, the police will have their idea of what is going on. It might be very different from yours when assessing the risk present in the situation.

Pomerantz recommends the resources below: 

1.      Informational stickers used by the San Antonio police: https://www.police1.com/use-of-force/articles/texas-police-launch-safety-stickers-program-for-people-with-special-needs-PwVXbmVi0BisLoXr/

2.      A news article on informational cards: https://news.wttw.com/2017/04/11/new-card-helps-disabled-communicate-police-stressful-situations

3.      The wallet card project: https://www.justdigit.org/wallet-cards/

Pomerantz recommends knowing your rights and the rights of a child under your care:

  • Please do not presume that cops know the law and will willingly follow its letter and spirit. 
  • Remember: You have a right to record the police in Texas.
  •  Remember that IDD individuals are a protected class under the ADA, per the ACLU, and it's crucial to be able to remind people of it in a non-threatening way.
  • They have the right to have their comfort zone be respected.
  • They have the right to non-threatening communication. 
  • They have the right to be allowed to calm down. 
  • They have the right to be accurately assessed.
  • Beyond that, it is essential to consult an attorney. 

"Most importantly," Pomerantz concludes, "you have to have a plan, and it must be realistic, comprehensive, and well-rehearsed."