The Mental Health Intervention Team (MHIT) commenced within the NSW Police Force as a two year pilot program in July, 2007. Following a study of best practice across the world with regards to Policing and mental health, the MHIT formed its basis on the Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) concept which bears its origins in Memphis, Tennessee. The Memphis Crisis Intervention Team model was modified to meet the needs and operating environment of the NSW Police Force, and a partnership was formed with key stakeholders such as NSW Health, the Schizophrenia Fellowship and other agencies in order to achieve its objectives. NSW Health supported the MHIT program by funding the secondment of a senior mental health clinician to provide advice on the overall program design, content expertise with regards to the development of an MHIT training package for frontline police and to provide clinical expertise and organisational linkage between the MHIT and the health setting service providers. Charles Sturt University was engaged by the NSWPF to independently evaluate the MHIT, through its Centre for Inland Health, the school of Policing Studies and the Australian Graduate School of Policing.
The aims of the pilot program included:
- Reducing the risk of injury to police and mental health consumers when dealing with mental health related incidents;
- Improving awareness amongst front line police of the risks involved in the interaction between police and mental health consumers;
- Improved collaboration with other government and non-government agencies in the response to, and management of, mental health crisis incidents, and;
- Reducing the time taken by police in the handover of mental health consumers into the health care system.
In consultation with both clinical and operational policing based experts, an intensive four day MHIT education package was developed during the pilot program. The package was designed specifically to provide frontline Police officers with a practical skill set that will assist them with managing those persons within the community who are experiencing a mental health crisis event or who have suicidal ideation. The package seeks to educate Police with respect to identifying behaviours in the field indicative of mental illness, and provide them with tools such as communication strategies, risk assessment, de-escalation and crisis intervention techniques, and to gain an understanding of the current Mental Health Act and the accompanying Memorandum of Understanding between the NSW Police Force, Ambulance Service and Ministry of Health. The training also includes a powerful lived experience component presented by a panel of mental health consumers and a carer/next of kin.
Following the success of the pilot program and positive outcomes from the independent evaluation of the MHIT by Charles Sturt University, the Commissioner’s Executive Team endorsed the formation of the MHIT as a permanent unit of the NSW Police Force Operational Programs Command as of the 1st of July, 2009. The team consists of a Commander, Project Officer and a Senior Mental Health Clinician and are responsible for shaping policy, strategy, training and operational tactics for the NSWPF with regards to mental health and suicide prevention related issues. To date the MHIT have trained 2030 officers from across the State in the four day training program. The officers that complete this program are accredited as specialist Mental Health Intervention Officers and are clearly identified by the wearing of a distinct metal MHIT Badge above their name plate. Upon graduation, MHIT trained officers assume the role of prioritised first responders to mental health related incidents within their commands. The MHIT has also trained one Inspector/Duty Officer within each of the 76 Local Area Commands across the State, and these officers assume the role of Mental Health Contact Officer and local advocate for mental health related issues.
The MHIT is an innovative and world class program, and has been the recipient of numerous State and National Awards. It effectively addresses community engagement and customer service requirements, coronial outcomes and risk mitigation for the NSWPF with regards to dealing with mental health consumers and carers within the community and those in suicide related crisis. The MHIT were awarded the prestigious Life Award for Suicide Prevention in the Workplace category at the Suicide Prevention Australia national conference in Hobart in July 2015.
The Commander of the MHIT, Chief Inspector Joel Murchie, regularly presents on a proactive Policing approach to mental health to consumer and carers groups across NSW, and has been a guest speaker on mental health and suicide prevention related topics to specialist forums within Australia and the United States. The MHIT concept and training program was adopted by the ACT Uniform Policing Branch in May 2011, the New Zealand Police Force in September 2013 and the Western Australian Police as of July 2015. Negotiations are continuing with other Police departments within Australasia with regards to adopting the model and fulfilling the MHIT’s vision for a uniformed and consistent Policing approach to mental health response issues across all jurisdictions.
With an eye to remaining contemporary, a review of the curriculum for the four day MHIT training program was conducted in late 2012 and a new component entitled ‘Transcultural Mental Health’ was devised and included in consultation with the Transcultural Mental Health Unit of the NSW Ministry of Health. This new lecture highlights to course participants the challenges of dealing with mental health consumers from the emerging culturally and language diverse population of NSW.
The MHIT developed a one day mental health training and awareness package that it rolled out state-wide from February 2014 to all officers who had not had the benefit of undertaking the intensive four day program. The back capture of these officers was conducted over a two year period ending December 2015 and also included the integration of the one day package into the core curriculum for recruits at the NSW Police Force Academy. As of December 2015 the MHIT was successful in training over 15,500 officers in the one day workshop and achieved its goal of having all officers across the State trained in mental health and suicide awareness and intervention. The four day training package will continue to be delivered, thus establishing a world leading two tiered mental health training capability for the NSWPF, with all officers receiving a minimum of one days mental health awareness and response training and selected graduates progressing to the four day program to become MHIT specialists.
The MHIT continues to work closely with our service partners to strive for better outcomes for mental health consumers and their next of kin and carers including more dignified transitions into care and recovery, to promote awareness and reduce the stigma surrounding mental health and suicide within the community. We are also members of Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) International, an organisation representing the 2700 Policing organisations world-wide that have now adopted the CIT model. We were the first Policing jurisdiction outside of the United States and Canada that adopted and implemented the CIT model and have presented on our progress to the CIT International annual Conferences in Las Vegas Nevada in 2012, Monterey California in 2014 and Chicago Illinois in April 2016.
The MHIT will continue to evolve to meet new challenges within the community that relate to mental health and suicide prevention and are working closely with our service partners with regards to some innovative new programs that will build upon our existing capabilities for response and resolution of incidents in this space.