Almost a quarter of all people killed by the police since 2015 in the United States have had a known mental illness according to a study done by the Washington Post.
In response to this growing issue, nearly $5 million in Mental Health Field Response Grants was recently awarded to law enforcement agencies across Washington State, according to a recent press release.
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Mental health is one of the biggest public safety issues facing Washington State, says Steve Strachan, Executive Director for the Washington Association of Sheriffs & Police Chiefs. More and more frequently, law enforcement is responding to calls of people dealing with addiction or experiencing a mental health crisis.
When services don’t exist, law enforcement has to step in and fill the gap, said Strachan.
“I think everyone agrees that many of the incidents and situations law enforcement responds to would be better handled by fully funded, well prepared, capable systems — particularly when it comes to mental health, and particularly when it doesn’t clearly involve a crime.”
According to Strachan, mental health is a dominant factor in a lot of what law enforcement does. The Mental Health Field Response Grants will be used to help departments create the infrastructure needed to properly respond to calls involving someone dealing with substance abuse or a mental health issue.
These grants will allow local law enforcement agencies to have mental health professionals work with local law enforcement. The goal is to reduce the use of force and get people the help they need instead of sending them through the justice system.
Local police responding to behavioral health related calls will have an on-staff individual that will take the lead on lining up locally available treatment and other services.
According to Strachan, patrol officers can sometimes deal with a person two or three times a day. People who are struggling with addiction or a mental health issue aren’t helped by going through the criminal justice system.
If someone is ready to get the help they need, having someone with the proper training and knowledge to work with them directly can be invaluable, said Strachan.
“To see people advocating for you to get healthy, who are law enforcement, is a game changer.”