June 12 marks the 10th anniversary of the shooting death of Barbara Schneider, a bright, sensitive woman with two Master's degrees. She died of gunshots fired by Minneapolis police during a mental health crisis call when she refused to put down a knife.
In the aftermath of her death, community members got together with members of the Minneapolis Police Department, local elected officials and the mental health community to discuss how to prevent future tragedies.
The Barbara Schneider Foundation was formed to help train and educate police and other first-responders around the state. (Acknowledgement: I do communications consulting work for the non-profit foundation.) Too often these types of police-community meetings are characterized by a lot of well-intentioned rhetoric, but lead nowhere.
This time was different. The record of cooperation among the principal players has been outstanding and has led to major improvements in the way we now handle mental health crises. A few examples:
Minneapolis police created a CIT (Crisis Intervention Team) Unit and later committed to having CIT officers available in each police precinct at all hours of the day and night.
The CIT model has since been adopted by dozens of police departments and sheriff’s offices across the state and hundreds of officers have become trained CIT officers.
Thousands of police, sheriff’s deputies and 911 staff have attended mental health in-service training.
Adult and child mental health Mobile Crisis Teams of mental health professionals have been created in all the metro counties and in many counties around the state.
Mental Health De-escalation trainings have been provided for a variety of social service, health care and local government staff who work in child protection, case management, hospital emergency rooms and psychiatric wards, clinics, jails, probation, courts, city agencies and others.
Criminal Mental Health Courts have been established in Hennepin and Ramsey Counties to provide an alternative for those who break the law because of their mental illness.
The importance of these changes cannot be overemphasized. As the foundation notes, one in four Americans suffers from mental illness at any given time. Next time there’s a crisis call, it could be your parent, your brother, your sister or your child. We should do all we can to make sure that the police and others who respond understand the people in crisis are not criminals, but people who need help.
That comes across vividly in a soon-to-be released documentary done about Barbara Schneider for the foundation. In the video by filmmakers Ossian Or and Sandra Valle, three close friends of Schneider describe her as a warm, committed and caring woman who wanted to make a difference. In fact, it’s entitled “To Give Back to the World,” something her friends say she was committed to doing. What’s been done so far to change the mental health system is part of her legacy.
Two months ago, Cecile Tebo, the head of the New Orleans police mental health crisis unit, spoke in Minneapolis to a group of police, social workers and mental health workers about her experiences in post-Katrina New Orleans.
“It’s incumbent upon people like us to educate, educate, educate others about mental illness,” she emphasized. “People who suffer from mental illness should be embraced. Their lives have been so hard at times.”
Tebo tried to put herself in the shoes of a person at the other end of a crisis call, reliving her experiences with Katrina.
“My whole world had crumbled…I lost my home, my neighborhood, my kids were displaced…We’re offering hope (to people in crisis). Things really do get better.”
For more information about this issue: http://www.thebarbaraschneiderfoundation.org/