Law enforcement officials are often the first ones called when people are going through a mental health crisis.
“About 20% right now are people dealing with mental health issues, dealing with crisis and are two officer involved shootings that we’ve had over the last year, have been people who were suffering from mental health issue, so it’s a real concern for us.” Chief John Piper of the Winchester Police department says.
Upon being called, Winchester police officers and Frederick county deputies transport them to receive health assessments and then wait for medical professionals to determine if they pose a danger to themselves or others.
“We’re averaging about one per day, so you can imagine the extraordinary drain on resources, for something that’s very important but its taking our officers off the street,” Piper says.
Officials say the whole process can be very time-consuming, especially if there aren’t resources available in the county.
“Normally we’ll go either to Virginia beach, Emporia, Williamsburg, occasionally we get to go to Stanton which is only 92 miles down the road but most of those times those beds are not available.” Sheriff Lenny Millholland says.
But soon the Northwestern Crisis Intervention Team Assessment Center will help reduce the time that law enforcement has to spend with someone they take into custody for a mental health crisis.The center, which will be staffed with crisis intervention trained officers and peer support specialists, is being set up by northwestern community services at Winchester Medical Center.
“The model is that if I’m an officer on the street, I bring somebody into the assessment center, I do an exchange of custody to a CIT trained police officer who’s working there on an off duty, extra duty basis and that i’m able to go back on the street,” Piper says.
Chief John Piper and sheriff Millholland say transport times will significantly decrease and most importantly assistance for the person in custody will be streamlined.
“Last year we had over 350 transports that we did and that normally requires two people and if we’re going to Virginia beach round trip for two people its about 16 hours, and that should decrease some of the overtime, and the road time, that we’re going back and forth to whichever facility,” Millholland says.
The northwestern crisis intervention team assessment center will be the 43rd CITAC in Virginia.