Mental health expert to aid officers in four WashCo cities
Police departments in four southeast Washington County cities now have an additional item in their respective toolboxes when it comes to dealing with those suffering from mental health or behavioral issues.
On Tuesday, Jan. 4, the Tigard Police Department announced a partnership between LifeWorks NW and police officers from Tigard, Tualatin, Sherwood and King City.
That partnership includes having a delegated mental health clinician who will ride with officers from those cities, helping them with individuals who might need some extra help.
That could prove extremely beneficial to cities like Tigard.
"The need is just overwhelming," Tigard Police Department public information officer Kelsey Anderson said about the partnership. "We have 65% of our calls involve some kind of mental or behavioral health (component)."
Anderson said the pandemic means police are seeing more people in crisis.
"Having the South Cities Team helps us be able to have somebody dedicated to this area who can respond to any crisis call," said Anderson.
Although an officer from each of the four cities and a clinician will be on two-week rotations covering their respective cities, both will be deployed to any of the other cities in the partnership whenever they are needed.
Their goal is to "de-escalate" a situation, to get people who may be calling 9-1-1 for a behavioral or mental health issue the additional services they might require.
One year ago this week, on Jan. 6, 2021, Tigard police officer Gabriel Maldonado shot and killed Tigard resident Jacob Macduff, who had mental health issues. While a grand jury determined that criminal charges weren't warranted against the officer, a demonstration in downtown Tigard escalated into a riot the day after Macduff's death.
The four-city partnership is a spinoff of the Washington County Mental Health Response Team, a program that has paired clinicians and sheriff's deputies for the last 11 years.
The new group kicked off in September 2021. It includes clinician Crystal Fisher, who is responding to calls alongside officers.
Fisher said the calls she's been on in the past include something as simple as having an anxiety attack to someone worried about a friend who might hurt themselves to someone who calls in to say they really want to hurt themselves.
Fisher, who has been on call for the Washington County Mental Health Response Team for nearly a year, said responses by the team could involve "anything that has to do with any mental health at all. It doesn't have to be major to be going on."
Fisher has also worked with the Washington County Crisis Team for almost three years.
"I just want to keep doing what we've been doing, which is responding to the calls, figuring out what is needed in the moment," said Fisher. "It could be helping someone to just to calm down if they're escalated. It could be just providing resources on how to get connected to ongoing services," she said.
Officer Shawn Fischer said working with a clinician has made a world of difference when he is responding to calls involving a mental health crisis.
"It's not all just suicidal (calls)," noted Fischer, an 11-year veteran of the Tualatin Police Department. "It's any type of crisis whatsoever (from) just being completely overwhelmed to where they feel like they have no outlet. They call 9-1-1, and then it goes to police, and then thankfully we've got a clinician so we're able to go as a team."
Sherwood police officer Adam Keesee said despite the different demographics of the communities, the calls he and clinician Fischer respond to tend not to be all that different. Those calls can come in Sherwood or any of the other three cities he covers during his shift.
"In a 10-hour shift, I could spend my entire shift in Tualatin or Tigard or be bouncing around all over the place or never make it out of Sherwood," he said. "It's so sporadic. It's consistently inconsistent, to be honest with you."
Keesee said having the clinician is especially helpful if coming in contact with people who may have had a negative experience with, or don't want to talk to, a police officer.
"A lot of times, people do things that we perceive as against the law because they're not seeing through the same set of goggles that you and I are looking through," he said. "It doesn't always require that they be arrested or … something punitive. Sometimes they just need help."
Tigard police officer Samuel Northcote said having a clinician on duty offers police the ability to go beyond the call to better assist the person they are dealing with by providing follow-up for assistance.
"The clinicians follow up for about a week with people that they see," said Northcote, saying they come back as a team. "It could be a phone call. It could be a request for in-person contact. It could be any number of things. They could hang up on us but ultimately we try to establish that cooperation and try to build that good will and that faith in their local law enforcement."
The MHRT South Cities program is a one-year pilot program established through a local intergovernmental agreement between Washington County and the four cities involved. Funding is through a U.S. Department of Justice Community Oriented Services grant, also known as COPS, secured by the Tualatin Police Department. While the intergovernmental agreement expires in June, Tigard police are hoping to secure other funding in an effort to keep the South Cities program.
"I think every agency involved wants it to see it become permanent," said Anderson.
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