What is REACH?
The Response, Evaluation and Crisis Help (REACH) initiative is a collaborative team which brings together police officers and social workers as a single patrol unit to meet the needs of community members who are experiencing mental health crises. Additionally, REACH staff follow up with community members within the first few days of that crisis to make sure they have access to long-term care. REACH staff assist with case management and making connections with community resources to ensure that no one falls through the cracks after experiencing an emergency.
In mental health emergencies, police departments historically have been tasked with making sure that community members in crisis do not hurt themselves or someone else. This safety component is a critically important function. However, even though police officers are trained in crisis intervention, their expertise does not match that of a social worker who is qualified to make a clinical assessment as to the intervention a community member needs. By pairing a police officer and a social worker as a single patrol unit available to respond in emergencies, the University of Illinois Police Department can very quickly deliver qualified personnel to assess an individual’s clinical needs while at the same time providing for the safety of everyone on scene — including the community member in crisis, department personnel and bystanders.
The bottom line: Through REACH, our goal is to provide better care to community members in crisis by ensuring the safety of all people involved, reducing unnecessary hospitalizations, and getting people into long-term care to improve their quality of life and reduce their need for emergency response resources in the future.
In this video, Megan Cambron and Officer Michelle Kaeding talk about the value of REACH, and the model where a mental health clinician responds alongside a police officer.
“We do get a lot of crisis intervention training throughout our career. However, as officers, we’re still very limited on what we can do because we are not, you know, medical professionals.” — Officer Michelle Kaeding
“We can have a mental health professional be able to co-respond with the police in those moments, and really encourage and be sort of that change agent.” — Megan Cambron
How it works
REACH emergency response mirrors a traditional patrol response, but with an emphasis on getting a social worker on scene. Here’s a basic response outline:
- A 911 call is placed.
- A dispatcher follows their regular line of questioning, taking care to note any indication of a mental health crisis.
- If the dispatcher determines that there is a mental health component to the call, they will dispatch a Behavioral Health Detective (BHD) unit. In our dispatch system, BHD indicates that a social worker is riding in the car with a police officer.
- The BHD unit arrives on scene, and the police officer makes an immediate assessment of whether or not the scene is secure.
- If the scene is not safe, the officer would follow their normal training protocols (including their Crisis Intervention Training) to address any potential safety threats.
- Once the scene is deemed safe, the officer steps away and the responding social worker takes the lead in speaking to the community member in crisis.
- The social worker gathers information, completes a clinical assessment, and collaborates with the community member to determine next steps which may include:
- Providing immediate supportive therapy and listening support
- Creating a safety plan
- Identifying needs for support and connecting individual to those resources
- Obtaining consent to communicate with other university departments and community agencies to assist in scheduling and case management needs
- Transportation to a safe location
- Plans for follow up communication
- After the immediate emergency is resolved, the case remains with REACH for a crisis counselor to follow-up on a later date. At that time, REACH offers further assistance to the community member, including making connections with long-term care if appropriat
Some REACH teams also include a therapy K9. In 2020, the University of Illinois Police Department became one of only a handful of police departments across the country to offer therapy K9s as a community resource, and UIPD’s therapy dogs are one of many outreach initiatives that the department provides. Lollipop, Archie, Rosie, Winston and their handlers are available to comfort our students, faculty and staff in times of crisis, or to help students reduce their stress and anxiety during the school year. Therapy K9s are also a great way to prompt good conversations between UIPD officers and community members, helping us to build more relationships with the people we serve.
Training and the Social Work Academy
Like any emergency call, mental health-related emergencies are unpredictable. The safety of REACH team members is a top priority, as is preparing them for rapidly evolving scenarios.
Partially to support its own training needs, REACH team members partnered with the University of Illinois Police Training Institute to develop a first-of-its-kind academy for police social workers. It’s named the Academy for Social Work and Public Safety Cooperation (ASWPSC).
The weeklong ASWPSC training covers de-escalation, evaluation tools, suicide risk assessment, documentation, policy and procedures, radio communication, safety tactics, working as a part of a co-responder team and police culture. It also includes scenario-based training with actors. The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign currently is exploring methods to make the training more widely available to agencies planning to implement their own social work programs.