A new program will go into effect after final county approval on Tuesday, allowing mental health co-responders to assist local law enforcement on calls that involve or potentially involve subjects in need of mental health services. .
The move comes at a time when similar programs are gaining popularity across the country and policing methods are adapting to these trends.
According to the National Council for Mental Wellbeing, about 10% of calls to the police involve someone with mental illness. And that number is growing.
The Saline County Commission approved a memorandum of understanding Nov. 22 that will kick off a program originally discussed by commissioners last spring.
“We have to lay the groundwork and start somewhere,” County Commissioner Bob Vidricksen said Tuesday.
In March, the county approved American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) money that was provided by the federal government through the Coronavirus Local Fiscal Relief Fund to revive the program and its two-year trial period. .
After:Saline County Approves ARPA Funding for Mental Health Responders
At the time, the county surveyed the public about how federal relief money should be spent. Criminal justice and public safety was a top priority for those who provided feedback.
“Saline County has been looking at this program for a while and when ARPA funding became available, that was one of the things we wanted to focus on,” said County Administrator Phillip Smith-Hanes. .
Mental Health and Law Enforcement
The Commission moved the MOU for mental health co-respondents off the consent agenda and created a new action item for its approval, after a request to do so from Vidricksen.
The action prompted further discussion and information about the memorandum, with Smith-Hanes explaining its composition and path to the agenda on Tuesday. Salina Police Captain Paul Forrester, Saline County Deputy Sheriff Brent Melander and Central Kansas Mental Health Center Executive Director Glenna Phillips explained how their respective departments will work together on the project.
“The biggest thing is going to be diverting them and not having to put them somewhere,” Phillips said. “It’s to deal with the crisis when it happens on the spot.”
The program will pay two mental health clinicians at CKMHC who will serve as co-responders to calls from law enforcement involving people who may need mental health services.
This is one of four ways the county has allocated funds to criminal justice initiatives. With federal funds, the county also: addressed the court system backlog in the city’s county building, launched a grant program for local entities called “Safer and Healthier Saline County”, and began to planning courtroom renovations after the state allocated for two new district judges and a magistrate judge in the 28th Judicial District.
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The co-responsor program is similar to what Riley and Shawnee counties have in place for service calls that include mental health services. Smith-Hanes and Forrester said they consulted with officials in those counties and other counties in Kansas to find out what worked successfully in their respective programs.
The memorandum went back and forth between the county, the city and the mental health center to include slight changes from the original language in March, adopting county best practice guidance they consulted before putting implement the program.
The Salina Municipal Commission approved the memorandum at its November 21 meeting.
Get mental health help for citizens
Under the current schedule, co-responders will ride with on-duty patrol officers and be on standby at the station when a call may require their services.
In cases where the co-responders are on standby, law enforcement will provide them with a vehicle to get to the scene to assist the officer and help deal with the person in mental health crisis.
“The other part of it is that we’re hoping these people will be able to do follow-up services as well,” Forrester said. “Obviously, to begin with, we’re not going to have them 24/7.”
Forrester said on days when co-responses are off duty, the police department or sheriff’s office will follow existing protocol for dealing with mental health crisis subjects. The next day, law enforcement would provide the co-respondent with a list of people the agency met while off duty.
Through this system, clinicians can see how law enforcement handles these types of calls, and officers and deputies can see how clinicians speak to subjects and the questions they ask in times of crisis. Education on both sides is equally important, Forrester said Tuesday.
As experts note, police officers are often called upon to solve problems that could be better handled by mental health workers. The co-responder program is part of a growing movement to determine how U.S. police reform can focus on mental health.
Doing their part locally, the Saline County co-responsor program is designed to be proactive and preventative, overall, Melander said. The new county jail will have a clinician on staff who is separate from the co-responsor program, but the two will likely work together on record keeping and helping people before a crisis leads to preventable illegal activity.
“Hopefully our records will mix so that if we’re on the streets, if a co-respondent comes out, they can have access to what happened to them in the past, including in prison,” Melander said. “We think that’s going to be a big benefit of trying to keep people out of the system.”
Melander said people struggling with homelessness and mental health issues are less likely to be able to bond if arrested, and having them housed in a prison instead of another facility where they can getting adequate help wastes unnecessary time on the side of law enforcement.
“We’re looking forward to (the program),” Melander said. “I think it’s going to be a big advantage – we don’t know, that’s why it’s two years – but I think it is.”
County ARPA funding of $199,125 will pay for the two co-sponsors employed by CKMHC for two years. After that, if the program is deemed successful, the county or city would have the option of funding the program from its own resources in the future.