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Oct. 17, 2021

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Vancouver police to expand mental health field response

By , Columbian Assistant Metro Editor
Published:

The Vancouver Police Department announced Friday it will expand its mental health field response thanks to the same grant funding that allowed it to launch its Enhanced Mobile Crisis Response Team last year.

The police department was one of 14 Washington law enforcement agencies awarded grants in July by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs. The grants are part of an existing program approved and funded by the Legislature, with additional funding from the Washington Health Care Authority, according to a department news release.

Nearly $633,000 in grant funding will be shared with the police department’s community-based partner Sea Mar to hire three new mental health responders, in addition to the three full-time positions that were created with the grant program last year, the news release states. The mental health responders assist Vancouver police officers in the field on an on-call basis.

“We are grateful for this opportunity to collaborate with (the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs) and the city of Vancouver to expand our mental health mobile crisis field response program. This grant will allow us to increase field team staffing to assist law enforcement officers with emergency calls and provide early intervention to improve health and safety for individuals in crisis,” Laura Nichols, program manager for Sea Mar in Vancouver, said in the news release. “This program has a positive impact for many of our most vulnerable community members, and we are glad we can continue to grow so we can help more people in the upcoming year.”

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, launching the pilot was delayed from March 2020 until October 2020.

The goal of the Enhanced Mobile Crisis Response Team is to provide people experiencing a mental health crisis with care where they are. When safe and appropriate, officers call Sea Mar members to respond to their locations and provide a clinical evaluation, and hand off responsibility for treatment and follow-up care. The program is also designed to divert some people, who have committed low-level crimes while experiencing a mental health crisis, from incarceration.

In an email, Nichols said they measure the program’s success based on the percentage of responses that result in diversion from an arrest or hospitalization.

The Enhanced Mobile Crisis Response Team responds to about a call a day, according to Nichols. But recent changes in state law that affect law enforcement policies and training has resulted in fewer requests from police for a co-response. Instead, calls are going to the Adult Mobile Crisis Team through the Southwest Washington Crisis Line because it is not a co-response model, she said.

“In light of the new legislation, Vancouver is fortunate to have the Enhanced Mobile Crisis Response Team already in place to improve responses to people in crisis, as officers may not be responding to some of these calls for service, depending on the situation,” Vancouver Police Department spokeswoman Kim Kapp said in an email.

Kapp said the goal of expanding the program is two-fold — “first, to increase the number of mental health field responders and expand the hours they are available to provide the appropriate mental health resources to people in crisis.”

“With these increases, we may see more requests for the co-response since there will be more opportunities for access to the field responders,” she said.

This year’s grant will also provide $4,000 for training in crisis intervention and best practices. Kapp said the department “plans to host training that will be open to law enforcement officers, mental health responders and 911 professionals.”

The department requires 40 hours of crisis intervention training for its police officers, Kapp said, and crisis intervention and de-escalation strategies are woven throughout training and scenarios.

New this year, the Vancouver Police Department will coordinate with police from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and BNSF Railway to extend mental health field response services to those officers in the area.

“I am excited that we are able to further expand access (to) mental health field response in Vancouver,” Police Chief James McElvain said in the news release. “With police being called to assist people in crisis more often, these mental health field responders provide the most appropriate resource to someone in crisis and allow police officers the ability to focus more on policing matters where they are most needed.”

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