Program before lawmakers could strengthen mental health crisis response

By Taylor McAvoy

WNPA Olympia News Bureau

OLYMPIA — A proposed pilot project would partner mental health professionals and local law enforcement officers on each call that involves a mental health crisis.

HB 2892 creates a grant from the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs to fund services from mental health professionals who would either go with police officers on calls or respond to scenes when requested.

The bill was voted out of the House Public Safety Committee and advanced to the rules committee on Thursday.

“Our current system works but I think it is a system that can be expensive and at times ineffective,” said Rep. John Lovick, D-Snohomish, the bill’s prime sponsor. “Jails are not designed to be mental health treatment centers.”

Lovick said he brought the bill before lawmakers when he saw a similar program in action in Edmonds while he was volunteering at the Edmonds Gospel Mission. He said having a mental health professional on the scene can better serve someone in a crisis.

The legislation’s aim, he said, is to improve the initial law enforcement interaction with people in a crisis, increase bystander and officer safety, and connect those who need it with mental health services instead of jail.

“Somebody in a mental health crisis is not in of themselves by virtue of their crisis committing a crime but our system continues to send law enforcement officers as its only response,” said James McMahan, policy director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.

He said that the bill would require the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs to provide a study of the grant program’s effectiveness to make sure it works. He said that could establish a foundation on which to build future response teams.

“We see cities as policy innovation mechanisms, as agents,” said Logan Bahr, government relations advocate for the Association of Washington Cities.

“This is a great marriage between the state and locals in responding to the needs of our communities.”

Partnerships with mental health professionals have already proven effective. McMahan explained two working models; the Seattle model, in which a professional is in the passenger seat of a patrol vehicle, and the navigator model, in which a mental health professional goes to a scene on their own on request of an officer who is already there.

“The most critical point in this program is to have the mental health professional there on scene in that moment of crisis,” McMahan said.

Karl Hatton, regional emergency communications director for Jefferson and Clallam counties, said 9-1-1 operators should be included in the program because they have the best sense of who needs to respond to a scene.

He also said that ongoing training for 9-1-1 operators should be included in the bill’s language so they know how to best respond as the first point of contact.

Lovick said he is seeking at least a couple million dollars for the grant and hopes to implement at least one project on each side of the state. The funding could come from a small surcharge on traffic citations.

However, the funding won’t be determined until the bill reaches the appropriations committee.

The bill was introduced late in the session, but Lovick is optimistic that it will pass this year.

“If we do it, it’s going to be done this year,” he said. “This is really a time to bring the community together to see what we can do to work with the vulnerable population.”

Chair of the House Public Safety Committee Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland sponsored a similar bill, HB 2234, which has a companion bill in the Senate, SB 5970 sponsored by Sen. David Frockt, D-Kenmore.

________

This story is part of a series of news reports from the Washington State Legislature provided through a reporting internship sponsored by the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association Foundation.

More in Politics

State lawmakers view new affirmative-action initiative

Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe among supporters of measure

Bill to let parents give medical marijuana to their students clears state Senate

Proposed change to cannabis testing rules also passes chamber

Native American health care bill heads for governor’s desk

Measure had unanimous votes in both chambers

Inslee: Forget impeaching Trump. Vote him out

By Bill Barrow The Associated Press Democratic presidential candidate Jay Inslee wants… Continue reading

State Senate, House don’t see eye to eye on budgets

Differences on Morse Creek, Hadlock wastewater facility, Boys & Girls Clubs, boatbuilding school

‘Ghost gun’ bill moves to state Senate committee

Measure would make 3D-printed firearms illegal

Malicious harassment renamed hate crime in proposed state legislation

Newly named hate crime offenses would let courts infer the… Continue reading

Presidential candidate Jay Inslee releases tax returns

Challenges President Donald Trump to do the same

Olympic Medical Center funding included in state Senate budget

The North Olympic Peninsula’s three Democratic lawmakers were enthusiastic that… Continue reading