Response to Crisis

It’s been 14 months since five Madison police officers were assigned to work exclusively on cases involving people with mental illness, which affects one in five U.S. adults each year. While the majority of those with mental illness are nonviolent, 60 percent of them in Dane County report having had contact with police. Here’s how one police department is changing the way its staff serves those with mental illness by collaborating with community partners.

Madison Police Department and Mental Health

Response to Crisis

Madison Magazine, April 2016


One of the most common feelings I experience when working on almost every article I write is, Man. There is so much going on that I don’t know about. This story was certainly no exception.

There are many, many, many holes in our collective response—as a nation—to the needs and nuances of those living with mental illness. At the same time, when a program like the Madison Police Department’s mental health team is working, you don’t really hear about it. For every high profile mishap or tragedy that makes the news (as it should), there are a dozen or more stories every day of people just trying to get by in a way the rest of us don’t really think about until we have to.

When I got the assignment to tell about the specific efforts of one department, I was immediately interested in how it’s working, and how you can even measure that. I have some minor experience navigating the complex world of mental illness with friends and family members, so I felt a sort of affinity with those who find themselves in a position where they must trust the system, but they don’t. Those forced to balance the safety of their loved ones with their own, or those around them. When you know someone needs help, but you’re scared that call for help will bring further harm, what do you do?

I still don’t have the answers. But I found it reassuring that there are far more people than I realized working on the questions.

—Maggie Ginsberg is an award-winning freelance writer in Madison, Wisconsin

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