Policing people who appear to be mentally ill

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PACER

One such innovation is known as the Police, Ambulance and Clinical Early Response (PACER). PACER was developed in Victoria in 2007 as an interagency trial to improve emergency service responses to people who appear to have a mental illness. It came about through a local partnership between police in Moorabbin and medical practitioners at Southern Health following a study tour that examined a range of models operating across the United States. Working as a co-responder unit comprising a police officer and mental health clinician the PACER crew provided a secondary response unit to respond to callouts that appeared to involve mentally ill persons.

Designed to improve emergency services responses to psychiatric crises in the community, the trial consisted of a PACER team rostered together for an eight hour shift based at Moorabbin police station. General duties police provided primary response to incidents and called for PACER support where an incident appeared to be associated with mental illness.

The inclusion of a mental health clinician as part of the PACER crew, meant a mental health assessment could be conducted onsite. This avoided the often long delays that consumers and police experience waiting for assessments to occur in emergency departments. This in turn eased the strain experienced by emergency departments. Dispositions available to PACER crews included the arrangement of transportation to an emergency department, mental health facility, police station, or a person’s residence and the ability to make follow-up care arrangements in a community context.

Another benefit of a multidisciplinary crew was the accessibility of both health and police data. Privacy concerns prevent police from accessing information about a person’s health records and mental health practioners from accessing police information. A team consisting of both a member of police and a clinician is equipped to access timely information and use this to identify an appropriate disposition in the consumer’s best interests.

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