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The city may share the clinician with the West Linn Police Department if agreement is reached.

Lake Oswego recently hired a new employee who will work with police on mental health-related calls.

According to an April 27 statement from the Lake Oswego Police Department, behavioral health clinician Amber Hambrick joined the department on April 12.

"This Clinician would be part of the police department but would respond to those calls that would be best served by a person with specific, detailed, and appropriate Mental Health training and certification," Lake Oswego's statement read. "As we envision it, this Clinician would be available to respond with an officer if needed but, more importantly, in many cases could respond alone to aid the person in crisis."COURTESY PHOTO: LAKE OSWEGO POLICE DEPARTMENT - Amber Hambrick, a behavioral health clinician joined Lake Oswego Police Department last month. The city of West Linn wants her to work in both communities.

Hambrick holds a bachelor's of science degree in psychology and master's degrees in both counseling education and counseling psychology, according to the city of Lake Oswego. She most recently worked with Clackamas County's Mobile Crisis Response team.

The city of West Linn is working on an agreement with Lake Oswego to share the services provided by Hambrick.

Acting WLPD Chief Peter Mahuna said WLPD doesn't receive enough of these calls to justify employing a full-time behavioral health specialist.

Over the past year, the country has seen a push for counselors and other behavioral health experts to respond to certain calls instead of police officers, as a way to reduce police killings. On a local level, the city of Portland launched Portland Street Response this year to respond to calls related to mental health and homelessness in the Lents neighborhood. The push for more mental health professionals responding to calls around the city only increased last month after Portland police shot and killed a homeless man experiencing a mental health crisis.

The national conversation about mental health experts responding to police calls helped push WLPD to consider hiring a behavioral health expert of its own, Mahuna told Pamplin Media Group.

Mahuna and City Manager Jerry Gabrielatos briefly discussed this position Monday, May 17, at the first Citizens Budget Committee meeting covering the biennial budget for fiscal years 2022 and 2023. The Citizens Budget Committee, which includes the West Linn City Council, will have at least three more meetings on the proposed budget over the next two weeks.

"The BHU (behavioral health unit) specialist will be hired on April 12, and our goal is to approve a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Lake Oswego and West Linn by May which will go into effect July 1, 2021," a draft of West Linn's biennial budget stated. "The creation of this position was made possible by reallocating one police officer position."

In a text message to Pamplin Media Group, Mahuna said West Linn would have access to Lake Oswego's specialist through an intergovernmental agreement that has not yet been completed.

During the last biennium, WLPD had one open officer position which the city chose to leave open, Mahuna explained. The city is using the funds for that position to cover the behavioral health specialist.

Mahuna said when Hambrick is not responding to calls, she will help provide "much needed (mental health) training for all of us."

In his budget message, Gabrielatos wrote that the specialist would focus on calls related to mental health or drug and alcohol addiction. "I believe this addition is a strategic use of resources that will better serve the community," he wrote.

According to the agency's own records, 52 of the 14,500 calls WLPD responded to last year were related to mental health. In 2019, WLPD responded to 26 behavioral health calls.

Mahuna said these numbers don't represent all calls related to mental health because of the way calls are categorized by dispatch.

As calls come in, Mahuna explained, dispatch designates the call type based on what the 911-caller says. However when police arrive on scene, officers may discover elements to the situation, such as a mental health crisis, that the caller didn't describe.

Many calls that are classified as welfare checks, for example, possibly have some kind of mental health tie in, Mahuna said.

"Maybe we get there and it's coded a domestic violence (call), but we get there and it's a husband and wife fighting — but they're fighting because the husband or the wife is going through a mental health crisis. So that's why those are kind of hard to fish out," he said.

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