A bi-partisan study held Monday by Oklahoma’s House Public Safety Committee affirmed that law enforcement would benefit from enhanced participation by mental health professionals on crisis calls.
Rep. Randy Randleman, R-Eufaula, and Rep. Collin Walke, D-Oklahoma City, requested the study to establish the need for more mental health crisis units and help the police identify mental health crises more accurately, according to a news release from the Oklahoma State House of Representatives.
The study comes after the Oklahoma City Police Department was recently given recommendations from an additional study that included implementing an alternative response model for mental health calls.
Dr. David J. Thomas, a policing expert and a professor at Florida Gulf Coast University, said in August he’s seen two successful models in different areas of the country.
One model, CAHOOTS, is used in Oregon and uses the police dispatch person to assess a situation and send an appropriate team of mental and physical health care providers, only dispatching police officers when absolutely necessary. The other version is a co-responder program being used in Gainesville, Fla.
With the Gainesville method, a designated car on each shift pairs a specially trained officer and a mental health professional. When a mental health call comes in, that car is dispatched first as long as it is available.
“Oftentimes, they have notes about houses and locations that they dispatch people to that there is a mental health issue at that location,” Thomas said, “So what the Gainesville Police Department has done is use that as a way to just eliminate officers having to go to those calls.”
According to city managers, Oklahoma City has already set aside funding to establish an alternative response program, but it has not yet been created or implemented.
Additionally, recently released recommendations for the Oklahoma County jail also highlighted the need for more efficient mental health screening and treatment.
Tulsa County Sheriff Vic Regalado, who took part in the House study, said mental illness is part of and contributes to a cycle that often includes homelessness and incarceration. He said jails across the country are the largest provider of mental health care.
That shouldn’t be the case according to advocates, non-profits and families of the mentally ill.
“It should not be a battle to get care for your child or your loved one in this state,” said Donna Frick, a board member for National Alliance on Mental Illness Tulsa, whose son struggles with mental illness.
Walke and Randleman are looking to provide better access and draft possible legislation to create solutions that will help people across the state, according to the release.
“We have known for a long time that individuals with mental health issues are disproportionately incarcerated,” Walke said. “That is why I am proud to work in a bipartisan fashion with Rep. Randleman to explore innovative ways to help individuals in need of mental health treatment avoid incarceration, while at the same time ensuring public safety.”
Beginning in July 2022 a three-digit dialing option will be available for people in crisis, said Carrie Slatton-Hodges, Oklahoma Commissioner of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.
“The number, 988, will connect to a statewide call center staffed by licensed behavioral health professionals who can assess the crisis and determine what steps should be taken next, as well as schedule a same day or next day appointment,” the release states.
Once the new number is active, it will allow those in need of mental health help an easily accessible option for receiving aid, while also providing an alternative to dialing 911.
If you or someone you know is currently experiencing a mental health crisis, help can be reached at 1-800-273-8255.