SHELBY COUNTY, Tenn. – Shelby County deputies will soon have backup of some calls.
Today, the Shelby County Sheriff’s Crisis Intervention Team is responding to mental health crisis calls. They are a group trained to respond to and help individuals who are going through a mental health crisis and prevent it from becoming dangerous.
The team will go through 40 hours worth of training conducted by Deputy Sam Cochran.
“[They learn] not only about the diseases that often come in crisis events, but also improve awareness of what we call de-esclaation, ”he said.
Memphis Police and mental health providers developed the CIT program decades ago.
Sheriff Floyd Bonner says this is a good starting point.
“Forty hours is just digging in the face,” he said.
Bonner is working with the office of Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris to launch a new program with federal funding. Now, in addition to CIT representatives, a trained mental health professional will also respond to the crisis.
Such professionals will call and have their own car.
Primarily, the representative’s job is to secure the scene.
“And then give it to a professional, a licensed professional, who is well trained in dealing with de-escalation, the counseling part, the connecting piece of service,” Michael Sims said. “That service may include a referral to an outpatient clinic as well as a housing connection or a case manager connection to connect them to disability or insurance.”
Sims partnered with Alliance Healthcare Services to provide licensed professionals. His team will also conduct checks between calls to make sure services are being used.
The sheriff’s office says about 2 to 4 percent of all calls are related to mental health or behavior, but that’s likely to be small. Calls are sometimes classified differently when they are incoming.
Other studies suggest that the number could be closer to 20 percent.
What is clear is that calls are one of the most complicated to solve. This will prevent representatives from other emergencies.
“There’s nothing worse for law enforcement to face tough challenges and difficult circumstances and feel like they’re not getting anywhere,” Cochran said.
Often agents are called in to help the same person over and over again. Their options are limited due to lack of resources.
“And they come back and back and back and back and back. They have nothing else to bring, ”said Bonner. “We want to see the population fall into prison. I said in a Crime Commission report, about 25 percent of our inmates who are incarcerated have experienced some sort of mental health crisis.
Many local activists have called on law enforcement to change the way they approach mental health. They admit that too many people with constant issues are stuck in prison. It created a criminal record and many road problems.
They are pushing new programs like CAHOOTS in Eugene, Oregon. Instead of a police officer, a medic and crisis worker will respond to the nonviolent crisis. Officials there report in 2019, officers were only called for backup 150 times out of 24,000 thousand calls. It has saved millions of taxpayers in ambulance trips and public safety costs.
Bonner said he studied the programs as well as forced the state to get more resources and try to get more CIT staff training.
To date, we know that 29 of 555 correctional officers, 272 of 643 deputies and 8 of 33 dispatchers are active CIT.