CHARLOTTE – The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department will roll out a program in April designed to de-escalate situations involving people with mental health or substance abuse disorders.
CMPD’s crisis intervention officers responded to more than 800 calls for service over the past year, acording to Chief Kerr Putney. He described such calls as the ones that keep you up at night, because they involve people who need help. However, sometimes these encounters end with tragic consequences.
CriSyS will pair six fully licensed clincial social workers with one of CMPD’s crisis intervention trained officers. Pairs will be called whenever officers encounter people in crisis.
The partnership spans from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week, with overnight support as needed.
“We believe this is an opportunity to better de-escalate high-risk situations,” Putney said. “Our goal is always to reduce injuries obviously to the community but also to our officers.”
Keshia Ginn, president of CriSyS, said her firm has been working with CMPD since 2006. Members of her team carry CMPD radios and respond daily to requests to assist in managing people sturggling with behavior health or substance abuse.
Her clinicians will be extensively trained in de-escalation and crisis intervention. Once on the scene, they’ll provide a crisis assessment and work with the indvividual and family to develop the appropriate crisis plan.
“An encounter with police can be scary for any of us, so that fear is intensified when we have an individual who is struggling with a mental health or substance abuse disorder,” Ginn said. “We believe the mere presense of a clinician on scene, who’s able to establish rapport and build trust relatively quickly with these individuals, will provide a sense of comfort and support as we work to get them connected to the necessary community resources.”
CMPD hopes to be proactive with the program by sending pairs to homes where they get repeated calls. Clinicians can enture individuals are taking their medication or ensuring community resources are readily available to them.
Ginn said the number of 911 calls tends to decrease when people are better connected with services they need.
The city’s contract with CriSyS costs roughly $600,000, but Putney said the value is immeasurable.
“One life saved,” he said, “you can’t put a cost on that.”