Problematic Behavior or Activity
Surveys conducted in our jail showed that up to 37% of the population was reporting having mental health issues. We were spending more than $30,000 a month on medications. At least half of the medications were psychotropic medications. The arresting agencies in our jurisdiction were encountering a large number of people in crisis in the field who needed to go to the hospital and sometimes ended up going to jail. In 2006 our jail bookings were almost 20,000 per year.
With the number of people in crisis in the community increasing, we saw an increase in jail bookings and hospital admissions.
The Crisis Outreach Response Team (CORT) is made up of one deputy, one mental health professional, and a part-time data entry position. The team collects police reports from all of the arresting agencies in the county that involved someone in crisis or who identified with mental health issues. The team will prioritize follow-ups with individuals who did not go to the hospital or jail and were not violent with the police. Once contact is made, the team will attempt to connect the person with appropriate resources to help avoid a crisis and minimize police contact. CORT hosts training twice a year for first responders in our area. We offer Crisis Intervention Team training based on the Memphis model. We have hosted this training since 2006. As of April 2015, we have been able to train 484 first responders.
When the team was first implemented, we started with a deputy 20 hours per week and the Health Department matched the time with a mental health professional. We relieved our deputy with a reserve and the mental health professional was hired part-time. We spent approximately $50,000 that first year to cover the staff.
We quickly discovered that COPS (US Department of Justice) offered a grant for mental health collaborations. We applied for and were awarded this grant, which allowed us to move our deputy into this role full time. The grant covered more than 80% of the deputy costs and we covered the remaining costs from our budget. The Health Department matched the time, making the mental health professional full time as well. We also applied and were awarded a grant from BJA for our collaboration between law enforcement and mental health.
In 2014, CORT received 2,348 police reports of people in crisis or having mental health issues. They were able to follow up with 933 of those individuals and refer them to appropriate services. Over the last eight years, all of the collaborative efforts between law enforcement and mental health have reduced jail bookings by 20-25% a year.
Critical Success Factors
We have two factors that have led to our success. First, we have department heads and leaders who support the program. The Sheriff, District Attorney, Health Department Director, Salem Police Chief, and County Commissioners have supported the program since the beginning. The second is having a partnership between law enforcement and mental health, which has given us both a better understanding and respect for one another.
I would start with finding the people that share your concern over the issues and build from there. Make sure to invite others into the collaboration. Look at all funding options and be creative.