Behavioral Health Unit Responds To Increased Crisis Calls

Julie Humphreys, Public Safety Communication Manager, 509.625.5868

Monday, April 19, 2021 at 2:27 p.m.

March crisis calls up significantly, intervention efforts making for best possible outcomes

Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs Co-Deployed team data for March 2021 illustrates success assisting individuals in mental health crisis amid restrictions from the Covid-19 pandemic and a high volume of calls for service relating to behavioral health crisis.

Officers from the Spokane Police Department (SPD), a Deputy from the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office (SCSO), and an Officer from the Spokane Valley Police Department co-deploy with clinicians from Frontier Behavioral Health (FBH) to assist those caught in “crisis” within the community. A “crisis contact” is described as a person who is experiencing increased emotion and decreased reasoning.

The co­-deployed team known as the Behavioral Health Unit (BHU) continued to divert people in crisis from jails and hospitals during a busy month of March. Not only is this beneficial to individuals in crisis, but a benefit to Spokane communities as well.  As a result of BHU handling a large volume of calls for service relating to individuals in behavioral health crisis, SPD patrol officers are able to respond to more calls for service in a timely manner throughout Spokane County.

In the month of March, BHU had 298 crisis contacts -up more than 100 a month from contacts in Jan. and Feb. and double Nov. and Dec. contacts. Sgt. Jay Kernkamp with the BHU says the increased contacts in March are likely due to increased drug use, warmer weather, and frustration over COVID restrictions.

The BHU contacts saved patrol 554 calls for service equating to 303 hours. 76% of these contacts had an outcome other than jail or the hospital. 21% were emergently detained with 0% force application beyond handcuffing. Additionally, 6% were diverted from arrestable offenses. 44% of all BHU contacts during the month of March resulted in referral.

BHU contacts are often multi layered and require substantial time and effort by officers and clinicians as noted in the following incident:

BHU responded to a 10 year-old in crisis. Mother called to report her 10-year old daughter was throwing knives and hitting her. BHU arrived on scene and all members of the family were escalating and shouting at each other. A BHU clinician was able to spend thirty minutes counseling the 10-year old in an effort to de-escalate the situation and find coping strategies which worked for her. BHU was successful in this endeavor in addition to de-escalating volatile family members on scene. BHU facilitated service connection to a Frontier Behavioral Health program and as a result diverted the 10-year old from hospital services. Since contact with BHU the day of the incident, the family has consistently participated in the program.

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Julie Humphreys