Licensed Clinical Social Worker Valentina Muggia started Dec. 7 in the Oregon City Police Department's newly-created mental health specialist position after working with law enforcement agencies for the past 20 years.
Oregon City Police Chief Jim Band has long seen the need for an in-house mental health professional and has been working to create Muggia's position since fall of last year after determining the need for a new approach to helping members of the community in crisis. OCPD has worked with members of the Clackamas County Behavioral Health Unit when they are available, but Band believes county resources are spread too thin to be as effective as possible for Oregon City citizens.
Ongoing case work to connect citizens in crisis to services is among the variety of reasons Band is bringing mental health services into the police department. Band said Muggia's extensive training in crisis intervention and trauma response for people with severe and persistent mental health illnesses will allow her to serve the community well.
"The ultimate goal is to offer help and provide trauma-informed care to the most vulnerable members of our community reducing the need for police whenever possible," Band said.
From 2015 until taking the OCPD job, Muggia worked as a mental health clinician with Clackamas County, assisting law enforcement agencies when they had contact with individuals and families experiencing mental health crises. In addition to the county job, she opened an Oregon City-based private practice in June 2019 that seeks to offer first responders a safe place to process and implement changes in their personal and professional lives.
Muggia received her master's degree in social work from Portland State University in 2013 and her bachelor's degree in languages from the University of Oregon in 1998. She is excited for her new OCPD position.
"I am looking forward to being able to make a difference in my community," she said.
Thanks to a federal grant, Muggia's approximately $76,000 annual starting salary won't come at the expense of OCPD's sworn officers. Oregon City will continue to have 46 sworn full-time officers — since OCPD is backfilling the police position that was reallocated to Muggia's work as a mental health specialist — partially using $125,000 in funding from the federal Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program over the next three years.
Accepting the COPS grant committed the city to contribute an additional $28,554 to OCPD's current annual budget and an additional $66,627 during next year's budget cycle. Federal funding is contingent on OCPD retaining its full force of officers for at least a year after the three years of grant support expires.
OCPD officials noted that officers respond to many calls about both homeless and non-homeless people who need help with mental illnesses. Clackamas County's most recent point-in-time homeless count in 2019 reported 2,293 people, and 322 of those people were homeless in Oregon City. Clackamas County's numbers were up 4 percent from 2,196 in 2015. The 2013 total was 2,070.
As the homeless population has grown in Oregon City, police officers have increasingly been called to help with issues in the community that involve people with mental illness. OCPD officials said most of these calls are not criminal in nature; they are people who need help finding services, including mental health services.
When the police are called for such incidents, Muggia as the behavioral health specialist is now often responding to the scene with officers to provide guidance and aid in problem-solving as "part of a 24/7 crisis response system." Muggia will also provide ongoing training to staff members of all Oregon City departments, including the police, library, pool, City Hall and senior center.
According to the job description for the mental health specialist, Muggia's essential job responsibilities include preparing client evaluations and writing case summaries.
Muggia is working "as a key member of a diagnostic team consisting of physicians, psychologists and other mental health professionals; (and) makes referrals to other community clinics, agencies or care facilities," according to the position description. She "provides case-specific consultation to other staff members, providers, families and/or community agencies."
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