The police response to emotionally disturbed persons (EDP) is a very common call for service that officers respond to on a daily basis. It is imperative that officers recognize the common indicators that would classify an EDP. Recognizing and properly handling EDP’s is critical to the effectiveness of Police Officers. Emotionally disturbed persons often exhibit behavior patterns and verbal indicators that seem inappropriate, inflexible, and impulsive. Officers should be cognizant of the following characteristics:

Inappropriate physical appearance such as disheveled or bizarre physical appearance or appearance that is inappropriate to the environment (ex: a person who wears shorts in winter, or a heavy coat in the summer).

Inappropriate body movements such as strange posture or mannerisms (ex: continuously looking over ones shoulder as if being followed, maintained the same or unusual body positions for an extended period of time, pacing or agitated movements, repetitive movements, or lethargic or sluggish movements).

Disturbances in perception such as responding to voices or objects that are not there or expressions of extravagant ideas (ex: the person believes they are Dan Marino). Disturbances in perception may also include hallucinations, delusion, major memory lapses, confusion, or unawareness of people or surroundings, and rapid shifts in subject in a manner that seems incoherent.

Disturbances in thought such as the individual jumping from subject to subject in a manner that appears incoherent, as well as their speech being difficult or impossible to interrupt.

Inappropriate moods or rapid mood swings from elation to depression or overreacting to a situation in an overly angry or frightened manner. As well as speech patterns that lack the normal ups and downs of emotion, or that contain uncontrollable bursts of emotion. The individual may also express feelings of persecutions (ex: expressing ideas of being harassed or threatened) or have obsessive thoughts or preoccupation with subjects such as death or guilt.

Acting or threatening to cause injury to self or others by cutting self with a sharp object, causing cigarette burns on body, starving self, or expressing a desire to do the same to self or others.

Inappropriate decorations such as strange trimmings or inappropriate use of household items (ex: aluminum foil covering windows).

Inappropriate waste or trash such as hoarding or accumulating extraordinary amounts of household items (ex: accumulating extraordinary amounts of string, newspapers, paper bags, or trash to the extent that it becomes a safety and health hazard). Or even the presence of feces or urine on the floors or walls.

Encounters with emotionally disturbed persons are frequent and sensitive police interactions. Dealing with people who are emotionally disturbed requires a high degree of skill and sensitivity. Officers who are able to recognize characteristics of EDP’s will be better prepared to intervene tactfully and sensitively in these situations and will be able to resolve the situation safely and effectively.
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