Law Enforcement and Department of Health partner on mental health crisis response teams

When law enforcement in Marion County responds to calls regarding people suffering mental health crises, arrest and jail is not the first option.

Instead, teams of mental health professionals and trained police or sheriff's officers from the Marion County Mobile Crisis Response Team respond, diverting people away from the criminal justice system and connecting them to community health services.

The response teams are the result of an intergovernmental program between Marion County Sheriff's Office, the Marion County Health and Human Services Department, the Salem Police Department and the Woodburn Police Department that intervene during mental health crises.

Woodburn Police Department entered into the program in early 2017, and launched a team covering northern Marion County at the end of 2017. The program has been a seamless success, and the Woodburn team has already responded to about 150 calls, according to Ann-Marie Bandfield, program manager of Acute & Forensic Behavioral Health with the county health department.

Woodburn police officer Tom Courson underwent a 40-hour Crisis Intervention Training course and is now working with Colleen Griffin of the Marion County Mental Health Department responding to mental health-related police calls in northern Marion County.

Calls that the teams respond to range from a person acting erratically in the community, to persons with emotional distress, suicidal ideation, bizarre behavior or threatening behavior with signs of delusions or paranoia, Bandfield said.

The teams also respond to people who are intoxicated and need medical care or detox, and people who are homeless with nowhere to go. Bandfield said it can be difficult to tell at first what is causing a person's crisis until teams are able to do an assessment.

The services the teams connect people to include on-site crisis counseling, referral to community services, or transporting people to community services, the Psychiatric Crisis Center in Salem or Salem Health Emergency Department.

When a person has also committed a crime that requires booking in Marion County Jail, mental health staff in the jail can address their mental health needs while they are in custody.

"It is important to note that in the last year less than 5 percent of the persons we encountered in Marion County through the mobile crisis teams have been taken to jail," Bandfield said.

The program has been a success, keeping people undergoing mental health crises out of jail and instead providing them needed resources, according to Woodburn Police Chief Jim Ferraris.

"It's been an outstanding program, and has enhanced law enforcement response to mental health crises immensely," Ferraris said. "They have resolved dozens upon dozens of calls. Without him (Courson), regular patrol officers would have had to respond."

The Woodburn City Council approved an agreement with the county in February 2017 to make the partnership between city and county possible. The county pays for Courson's salary and benefits for two years using up to $190,000 in funds from a 2014 investment grant from Oregon Health Authority for county mental health programs.

"We're hopeful that the state will maintain that funding stream through to us," Ferraris said. "Should that not be the case, we will prioritize service, and decide with the city if we are going to continue funding the program."

Ferraris said that while an analysis of the program's results has not been done, the need for the program is clear to patrol officers.

"Word of mouth from the guys on the street is that there is a greater need than ever," Ferraris said.

Bandfield said that assessing whether the crisis response teams have sufficient staff is difficult.

 "It is sometimes a challenge to get all persons the services they need in the moment they need it, which is why its important to continue to train all officers from all agencies to engage with a person in a mental health crisis," she said.

Mobile crisis teams are currently available seven days a week, from 2 p.m. until midnight. Another agency is currently crafting an agreement to join the program, which will allow the crisis response teams to expand service to seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 2 a.m.

"We are very excited about this expansion and believe it will meet many of the needs persons with mental health crises have. " Bandfield said. "However, it will never replace the importance of all the officers in our county, across all agencies, having the training and tools for working with persons with mental health concerns and crisis."

Patrick Evans



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