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Council members looking at feasibility of potential criminal justice programs

COURTESY PHOTO: ALEX TARDIF - Columbia Community Mental Health Executive Director Julia Jackson, Columbia County Commissioner Alex Tardif and Columbia County District Attorney Jeff Auxier visited crisis respite centers around the state earlier this week.Three members of Columbia County's Local Public Safety Coordinating Council, or LPSCC, traveled around the state to visit crisis respite centers earlier this week.

Columbia County District Attorney Jeff Auxier, Commissioner Alex Tardif, and Columbia Community Mental Health Executive Director Julia Jackson visited the centers for ideas about how a 24-hour crisis respite center could function in Columbia County.

The purpose of the two-day trip was to "see how different crisis respite centers in rural counties operate, in order to help us get a better vision for what would work in our county," Auxier said.

"We all have common goals, but we all look at these issues from different angles. Commissioner Tardif sees it from a county, government lens, and I see it through a law enforcement lens, and Julia (Jackson) has a different perspective as a mental health director," Auxier said.

Currently, police who encounter someone experiencing a mental health crisis who may be a danger to themselves or others are forced to either book the person into the jail or drive to Portland.

"That takes police officers off the road for multiple hours, when they could be here protecting our community," Auxier said. "I want whatever kind of facility would help keep our officers local."

The trio visited facilities in Grants Pass, Klamath Falls, and John Day. Each of the facilities function differently, with different capacities, funding sources, physical layouts, and security levels.

"It would be nice to have any type of facility, because currently we have no facility," Auxier said. "Having beds available for people in

crisis, whether its secure or not, would be a vast improvement."

Any potential crisis respite center is still far in the future, however. Medical intakes are needed to admit someone to a crisis center, which is relatively easy when the facilities are located next to hospitals, Tardif and Auxier explained.

"Our biggest challenge is that we need medical clearance, and the only way we can get medical clearance is through hospitals in Portland," Tardif said.

Tardif, Auxier and Jackson plan to bring insight from the road trip to the county's LPSCC meeting next week. In recent months, the council has identified ways to keep community members out of the criminal justice system. In addition to the crisis respite center, the council identified the need for support programs for people leaving jail and reentering the community; improved systems for sharing mental health information; improved inmate transportation from Columbia County to Portland behavioral health hospitals; and more early-intervention and diversion programs for offenders.

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