Jan 4, 2021
In this episode of The Mind Itself Podcast, Sheriff Mike Chapman from the Loudoun County Sheriff's Office joins host John Whitbeck in a conversation about mental health and law enforcement. Not sure if he wanted to run for sheriff in the first place, he was a policeman and worked in a private sector in which he saw a lot of substance abuse. With someone he knew close to him dealing with their struggles, he decided to run for sheriff based on improving mental health resources. Nothing in Loudoun County law enforcement provided help or assistance in mental health when he was running for sheriff– no programs, no assistants. He got elected and made mental health a new priority. At first, his initial goal was to have 25% of deputies trained for dealing with mental health. Once the program started, the people attending the sessions realized how helpful these sessions were. Eventually, this led everyone on the job is 100% CIT trained – deputies, dispatched, anyone working inside the agency.
Changing the Culture
Mike didn’t just want to focus on mental health, but also mental disabilities. Realizing that sometimes people might not understand commands or actions in a way that they are expected to, he realized that a lot of the training had to be focused on empathy and sympathy. That started him training his deputies to take a minute to pause and try to understand what the person was going through while using their best judgment, quickly learning that it made a huge difference in overall handling situations.
Loudoun County avoids arresting and putting individuals under criminal processing when it comes to people with mental health or disabilities, rather they encourage helping those people get the resources they need. When training, the goal is to make everyone in the law force agency thinks about the law in a way they didn’t before. Instead of just reaching down and grabbing the handcuffs, the focus was to change the mindset of how they should react and approach situations. Mike wanted to change the culture and deescalate the situation by training people to be more empathic or sympathetic.
Training in Mental Health Situations
When getting everyone to be CIT trained, it was hard at first. Not everyone believed that it was going to be successful, but Mike talks about how it was an internal job at first. With a good support system that put it together, the training grew in popularity. Classes, talking with other people and leaders in the field, and constant lessons allowed everyone in the department to stay in a constant mode of learning.
The changes happening nowadays from the turbulent summer were already implemented in the Loudoun County office – and they proved to be successful. Mike talks about how he stays up to date with the best practices and communicates with agencies and mental health professionals in maintaining the best practices they teach.
Taking Action in the Community
Mike and his unit also work with the ARC of Loudoun County, where they get the feedback and real experiences directly from the people that are affected by mental health to get to the crux of the matter. Not only do they try to understand the situation when it’s happening but try to get assistance from people with substance abuse and other issues in jail. They want to give the most assistance they can to the people that need it. It doesn’t just stop there - as they get closer to their release from jail, they guarantee that tools are in place to help them get better and live a better life outside. It’s not just about the punishment to Mike and the team, he wants to provide reformation and better access so that they can live a productive life.
There is a balance when it comes to all of this, and it’s the rule of the law and understanding mental health. Being engaged in every aspect is the most important part of the job. In the future, Mike plans to continue to look for ways to constantly improve. He wants to stay a board member and actively have a voice on the matter. Overall, Mike has bettered the community as a whole in mental health and paves the way in the region as one of the top programs that handle mental health and mental health situations when it comes to the law.