Policing with patience; How the role of police officers is drastically changing

Boise Police officials say 70 percent of what law enforcement does nowadays is "social work."
Posted at 8:21 PM, Feb 17, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-18 17:51:51-05

BOISE, Idaho — Idaho is consistently among the states with the highest suicide rates. Suicide, sadly, is the second-leading cause of death for Idahoans ages 15-34.

Now, Boise Police officials say 70 percent of what they do nowadays is "social work."

According to Boise Police's latest report, service calls for welfare checks are at an all-time high. The report also reveals that calls for attempted suicide more than doubled from 2017 to 2018-- a number police say they want to change.

"When we go into that circumstance we don't know exactly what we're going into. It could be a welfare check that turns into a crisis intervention," said Cpl. Kent Lipple, an officer with Boise Police. "It's different than it was 25 years ago... that's for sure. Less law enforcement related-- more community care-taking."

Lipple has been a Boise officer since 1994. He says when he first started, mental health was a bit more stigmatized.

"I don't know maybe it's our lack of-- we just don't have enough mental health resources for people to fall back on. If you don't have insurance, where do you get the mental health help that you need?" Lipple said. "Maybe the mental health crisis has always been there in more of an underlying capacity-- now it's been-- now it's on the front-burner."

Lipple says the issue has been heightened by social media.

"Whether it be Twitter, Facebook, that's usually where the call for help or the reach-out starts," Lipple said. "That's the new policing. That's just the way it's going to be."

Officers are working to adjust to the times. There is now a mandatory 40-hour crisis intervention classroom training for new officers. Chief Bill Bones says when he's hiring officers, he's looking for someone who can find the "gray areas" in incidents-- someone who might even give a warning instead of an automatic citation in non-violent scenarios.

Now, it's not just officers working to address the issue. Bones recently hired a mental health coordinator to respond to scenes of repeat callers.

For Lipple, who is soon-to-retire (his last day is in five weeks)-- he says his ability to shine light in some of Idaho's darkest corners is one of his proudest takeaways.

"The things I'm most proud of no one knows anything about-- I never got a medal for them. I was never recognized. But I didn't need to be. They were between me and citizens," Lipple said.