by Comprehensive Staff
What happens when a mental health professional rides along with law enforcement? Lots of good things, according to Yakima County Sheriff, Robert Udell.
“After 28 years in law enforcement this is the best program involving mental health services that I’ve seen.”
The program that Sheriff Udell is talking about embeds a Designated Crisis Responder (DCR) in the patrol vehicle with law enforcement officers. When receiving emergency calls involving individuals with mental health or substance use disorders, the DCR’s presence reduces instances of negative interactions with officers. A DCR can also provide support and resource information on the spot. Officers say that DCRs reduce the amount of time they spend on calls involving individuals with mental health or substance disorders – freeing them up to respond quicker to other emergent calls.
How the Program Started
The program came to Comprehensive Healthcare, and other agencies around the state, as a result of a lawsuit against the state of Washington. The suit successfully charged that mentally ill individuals remained jailed far too long before competency evaluations were administered. Various programs were funded to help reduce instances of people with mental health or substance use disorders going to jail by diverting them into treatment services and away from the criminal justice system. Comprehensive Healthcare provides embedded Designated Crisis Responders for the City of Yakima Police Department, Yakima County Sheriff’s office and the Union Gap Police Department.
How It Works
At the beginning of a patrol officer’s shift, the DCR is paired to ride along with the officer. The Yakima Police Department (YPD) typically pair the DCR with an officer assigned to the downtown area. If a call occurs from outside that area that needs a DCR’s attention, the officers will transfer the DCR to the officer responding to the call. With the Yakima County Sheriff’s office, the DCR stays with an assigned deputy and responds to behavioral health associated calls.
When asked what kind of results she has seen from the program, Courtney Hesla, Vice-President at Comprehensive Healthcare says, “Law enforcement loves it. It took a very short amount of time to prove its value.”
Many of the problems associated with untimely competency evaluations can be prevented if fewer people with mental illnesses enter the criminal justice system. DCRs can identify people in need and direct them to the appropriate services. Sheriff Udell adds, “DCRs offer resources that deputies ordinarily would not have. They work on situations regarding homelessness, senior citizens in time of need — just a variety of issues that adds to our function as a Sheriff’s office.”
In the last six months, DCRs have had contact with 486 individuals in the field. One DCR alone made 302 crisis contacts in 2018 while riding with YPD.
The Program’s Future
The lawsuit resulted in state funding for two grants on two different funding cycles. Both have sunset dates – one ends in June of 2020. “City and County governments will hopefully pick up the funding going forward,” Hesla explains. “Our grant funding also supports related programs like placing Behavioral Health Specialists in the Yakima County Department of Corrections to screen individuals booked for mental health and substance disorders and then referring them to the internal jail mental health team. It also supports case management services to high risk individuals coming out of jail who need assistance getting connected to services and resources immediately after release. We hope that the community will communicate to City and County leaders that this is a program deserving of continued and sustained funding.”
What is a DCR’s Authority?
A DCR can determine if the person presents a harm to self, others, property, or is gravely disabled due to a mental health or substance use disorder and is at imminent risk. If this is the case, attempts are made to connect them with inpatient treatment services. When the DCR conducts an evaluation and investigation:
• They can interview all reasonably available family, friends or others.
• Consider all less restrictive treatment options that are available.
• If there is no available involuntary treatment bed, then the DCR cannot detain the person.
• If the person is detained for treatment, the court will decide if the person meets criteria for a commitment order for up to 14 days of further treatment.
• At the time of discharge, the person will be referred to the appropriate level of care such as intensive outpatient or residential treatment, which may be court ordered.