ALEXANDRIA, Va. — In some local police departments, they’re trying something new.
Mental health professionals are now riding along with officers to deal with the rise in mental health cases they’re seeing, but some critics question how safe this is.
Channel 2′s Blair Miller went along, to see what kind of impact they’re having.
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It’s the middle of the week on an afternoon in Alexandria, Virginia. The police unit isn’t looking for criminals.
“It’s unbelievable how many mental health-related calls are coming in,” said Officer Tommy Evans.
“It’s just been getting worse,” psychologist Dr. Megan Hencinski said.
For two days, Miller rode with the special team that pairs Evans with Hencinski.
She’s not an officer, but rides with Evans every day, and they’re focused on responding to mental health calls.
They responded to numerous calls, including one involving a 7-year-old who was violently struggling with their mom at a doctor’s office.
Because these two have worked with this family before, they called the mom while en route.
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Once they arrived, they met inside the doctor’s office and a few minutes later, Evans and Hencinski were able to help bring the child outside and get the situation under control.
“We have to unfortunately call fairly regularly, and it just saved us from a lot of really tough situations. If we didn’t have these resources, frankly, I think we would get a lot more hospitalizations. A lot more potentially, especially interventions later in life, like in the justice system,” the mom said.
The police program started in October of 2021.
Police say that of the calls that could’ve resulted in an arrest, 71% were resolved without anyone going to jail.
“I would say there’s been almost an explosion of interest in other models for responding to people in behavioral health crisis,” said Megan Quattlebaum, with the Council of State Governments Justice Center in New York.
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They surveyed 70 police departments across the country and found that 76% of them use a similar program as the one we saw in Virginia.
“Many law enforcement organizations are saying, ‘We want a different way of responding to a person who’s presenting with crisis, moreso than presenting with public safety risk,’” said Quattlebaum.
There are also critics like Dr. Alex Del Carmen, who’s trained thousands of officials at the FBI Training Academy.
He questions how safe it is to have a psychologist in the car who isn’t an officer with formal police training.
His concern is “whether or not you’re really exposing another person to a very dangerous situation that they may not be ready for, and so the officer is going to have to worry not only about his or her life, but also the life of that person.”
Police said that is something they think about too.
They said that if there is a safety risk, only an officer will handle the situation, while the psychologist is told to stay back or even stay in the car.
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