Jeff Humphrey, Media Content Coordinator, 509.625.6308
Thursday, October 4, 2018 at 4:09 p.m.
One out of every four calls Spokane police respond to involve somebody having a mental health crisis.
If someone appears to be uncooperative, arriving officers have to quickly decide if that person is just being difficult, or deserves a chance to work things out with the cops through crisis intervention.
“What you say to them at that point of contact is either going to help them start in the healing process or it’s going to start them spiraling further down,” said Chief Craig Meidl of the Spokane Police Department.
Spokane PD began its Crisis Intervention Team training back in 2000. All of the department’s officers are required to take a forty- hour class that helps them recognize how to de-escalate tense situations so police and members of the public are less likely to get hurt.
“An officer who has been trained in CIT is equipped to understand what is mental illness and what does it mean when someone with a mental illness is in crisis, and, how to interact with that individual,” explained Jan Dobbs Frontier Behavioral Health.
Coincidentally, Spokane’s successes with crisis intervention training put the city first in line for a series of grants. The money that funds the Community Diversion program stem from fines levied against Washington state’s mental health hospitals for not giving their patients competency evaluations in a timely fashion. The sanctions were the spoils of a lawsuit known as Trueblood v. Washington State DSHS.
“So we were able to apply for this grant and create a Community Diversion Unit. Where we have four of our officers who ride along with four of our mental health professionals and as a team, they are dispatched to anyone who is in a crisis and they are able to use both disciplines for a better outcome,” Dobbs said.
Recently, Spokane police officer Kyle Hewitt was tag- teaming calls for service with Jae Dobbs from Frontier Behavioral Health.
The pair wanted to talk to a woman who was spotted walking in the middle of Sprague Avenue traffic.
“Have you had any thoughts during the past month to go to sleep and not wake up or to hurt yourself?” Dobbs asked of the woman who so was incoherent, she couldn’t recall the day or month.
Dobbs determines her client is not suicidal but learns the woman is interested in mental health treatment.
“And the outcomes we are looking for are, if that individual is not arrested, if there is an opportunity that they do not need to be arrested, that we can divert them to community resources,” said Jan Dobbs.
Jae Dobbs and Hewitt contacted another woman could have been arrested for sleeping in a downtown viaduct.
“Do you ever hear or see things that aren’t really there?” Dobbs asked as part of her in-field assessment.
Dobbs and Hewitt give Ashley a trash bag for her belongings and directions to the nearby Frontier Behavioral Health clinic for outpatient treatment of her anxiety and depression issues.
“We are also looking at outcomes where we are not taking every single person to the emergency department. That we can actually deal with the crisis in our community, wrap resources around that person so they can remain in the community and also get ongoing services,” Dobbs added.
According the Frontier Behavior Health, during the past three months their Community Diversion Unit has contacted 198 people.
153 of them were referred to outpatient services, instead of local emergency rooms. 15 other people, including Ashley, avoided a trip to our overcrowded jail.