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U of I police co-responder model partners mental health response with police intervention

University of Illinois Officer Zachary White, Detective Tara Hurless and Officer Joshua Fisher play with therapy K-9s Rosie and Kirby at the “Kick the Stigma” event on May 1. UIUC utilizes therapy dogs at community events as a part of its REACH program.

The University of Illinois police are pairing social workers with police officers to address mental health crises calls. 

The response, evaluation and crisis help – or REACH – team began in 2021. 

The program was created in response to the community’s desire for social workers to respond with police officers to address calls that have a mental health element, according to REACH social worker Amanda Goodwin

Police are required to have crisis intervention training, however, Goodwin said they don’t always have the same skills as social workers when it comes to helping an individual who is experiencing a crisis. 

“We have those special skills of building a rapport with somebody and being able to talk more openly in a non-judgmental way,” she said. “Police officers maybe just don’t have those skills.” 

Although social workers have some skills that police officers don’t, Goodwin said the REACH program cannot exclude police.

“The community might be pushing for just social workers to go on these calls,” she said. “It might put the social worker in danger, and we wouldn’t want to do that. 

“It allows a protection, a safety net, that a social worker generally doesn’t have in other fields.”

The REACH team also utilizes therapy K-9s, Goodwin said, which can be used not only on calls, but also community events on campus. 

“We utilize the dogs in a wide variety of ways,” she said. “It allows us to break down that barrier and soften the police officers’ look.” 

Despite the success she has seen in the REACH program, Goodwin said there are always ways that it can be improved. 

“After every call, we’ll debrief it and see what could have been different, what could have been better, and there’s always something,” she said. “We’ve seen the improvements, we’ve seen things get better, and we’re just going to continue doing that.”

IPM News

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