Responding to crisis: Law enforcement works with mental health professionals to provide resources

Responding to crisis: Law enforcement works with mental health professionals to provide resources

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Local behavioral health resources and community groups will expand outreach about available services and work to combat the stigma that surround mental illnesses.

But increasing awareness also involves shedding light on the sides of mental health that are less visible- the kinds of things law enforcement and first responders encounter frequently.

They’re not mental health professionals but they are first responders, often the earliest to arrive to a call that involves a member of the community who is experiencing a mental health crisis.

“It’s not up to us to determine what somebody in particular is suffering from,” said Spokane Police Sgt. Nate Spiering.

In some cases, an incident might reach the level of law enforcement action. But a trip to the hospital or a night in the Spokane County Jail are not the only options and are, in many cases, not the right options.

“If you look at the two bookends, the stereotypical bookends, what do you do with someone who is in crisis? Is it the hospital on on end, or the jail on the other end? There’s a gamut of things in between,” Spiering said.

SPD is now better equipped to direct people who struggle with mental health issues to community resources available to them. Since July of 2018, four Frontier Behavioral Health clinicians have partnered with the departments, riding along with officers to provide critical mental health help.

You’re still using police tactics but you’re doing it in a way that’s tailored toward a person in crisis if that’s what’s suspected of happening,” he said.

Spiering says that out of about 600 contacts the diversion rate, or percentage of people who do not end up in the jail or the hospital, is 68%.

The dollar value alone tied to that number of people who have not gone to the hospital and incurred ER costs or have not gone to jail and incurred incarceration costs is staggering,” he said.

The Spokane Fire Department has implemented a Behavioral Response Unit and, according to a press release, the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office partnered a clinician with a patrol deputy in November. All programs are made possible through partnerships with Frontier Behavioral Health which SPD said is an invaluable learning tool for officers.

“Every resource that they utilize or turn that they take is also a learning experience if the officer hasn’t experienced it you just kind of have this bleeding effect of this is what really works,” Spiering said.

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