Behavioral Health Unit 2020 Impact

Julie Humphreys, 509.625.5868

Friday, February 19, 2021 at 4:38 p.m.

Behavioral Health Unit (BHU) responds to thousands of individuals in crisis in 2020 providing the best possible outcomes during a very challenging year for people with mental health issues. 

The Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs Co-Deployed team data for the BHU’s first year of operation in Spokane County is out and shows the unit contacted 3,760 individuals between January 2020 and December 2020. 78% of those contacts resulted in an outcome other than jail or the hospital. The goal of the unit is just that, to divert people in crisis from being arrested or seeking treatment in hospitals when other options may better meet their needs.

The BHU consists of officers from the Spokane Police Department (SPD), a Deputy from the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office (SCSO), and a Spokane Valley Police Officer, co-deployed with clinicians from Frontier Behavioral Health (FBH) to assist those caught in a “crisis” within our community. A “crisis contact” is described as a person who is experiencing increased emotion and decreased reasoning. The unit responds to those in crisis county-wide but has also proven to be a valuable asset to agencies throughout the state. SPD is looking to add additional officers to the BHU unit because of the success of the program in offering safe resolutions for the person in crisis, mental health professionals, and law enforcement. 

Of the 3,760 people contacted, 46 were arrested, which is 1.2% of contacts; 590 people or 15.7% of contacts were emergently detained – meaning the person was taken to a hospital for involuntary treatment because they were homicidal, suicidal, unable to care for themselves, or gravely disabled. In addition to the 3,760 contacts last year, 331 people identified from call types other than mental health were diverted from arrestable offense and from hospitals. The BHU was able to relieve a total of 4,272 calls from patrol in 2020.

Other numbers show the unit responded to 434 suicidal calls, followed up on 520 individual, made 1,044 welfare calls, and assisted DCR’s - Designated Crisis Responders - in 772 BHU calls. 

“2020 was a very challenging year for all.  Everyone experienced social isolation, minimal face to face contact, and a change in routines” said BHU Sgt. Jay Kernkamp.

“The implementation of the Behavioral Health Unit could not have occurred at a better time.  Often times we were the only social interaction and resource available during the pandemic.  Moving forward, the BHU anticipates serving the community by reducing calls for service with high utilizers of 911 and assisting those in crisis by connecting them to services and resources.  The BHU continues to foster relationships with invested community partners.”

The BHU had many success stories of helping those in crisis in its inaugural year.  Below is one recent example of the impact the unit has had on the community. ***

A homicidal, suicidal male fled a care facility in Idaho and headed to Spokane where he was said to be looking for his girlfriend to kill her. The male had been diagnosed with Schizo-affective and bipolar disorders and was said to be armed with a firearm. He stated he did not want to go back to jail and would not be taken alive. At the same time, law enforcement had a duty to try and protect the female victim from any attempts on her life. 

Recognizing the risk to the public and law enforcement BHU immediately reached out to the neighboring agencies and the victim to develop intelligence on the male.  BHU officers were in contact with him within an hour over the phone. Within 3 hours the male had agreed to meet BHU officers.  During this time, BHU officers along with the DV unit collaboratively worked with the victim and friends of the male to keep all parties safe and to ensure there were no crimes committed.   5 hours from the first call on this incident, BHU officers met with the male.  He admitted to being bipolar and off his medication. The male was cooperative with BHU officers and gave consent to check for firearms, none were found.

The male was voluntarily transported to a nearby hospital for an evaluation.  He remained there for 7 days where he was stabilized and evaluated while taking his medication.  The female victim was kept safe during this time.  Once released from the hospital, BHU met with the male again. They explained to him the dangers he presented while off his medication.  He was also informed about a no-contact order placed on him while at the hospital.  This was to ensure he did not go back to jail and to keep his girlfriend safe.

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Julie Humphreys