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Police departments bring mental health workers to help respond to crisis calls – WSB-TV Channel 2

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – In some local police departments they are trying something new.

Mental health professionals now ride with officers to deal with the increase in mental health cases they’re seeing, but some critics question how safe it is.

Channel 2’s Blair Miller went along to see what kind of impact they have.

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It’s the middle of the week on an afternoon in Alexandria, Virginia. The police unit is not looking for criminals.

“It’s amazing how many mental health related calls come in,” Officer Tommy Evans said.

“It just got worse,” psychologist dr. Megan Hencinski said.

For two days, Miller rode with the special team pairing 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 violently struggling with their mother at a doctor’s office.

Because these two had worked with this family before, they called the mother while they were on their way.

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When they arrived, they met in 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.

“Unfortunately, we have to call quite often, and this has only saved us from very difficult situations. If we didn’t have these resources, to be honest, I think we would have a lot more hospitalizations. Much more potential, especially interventions later in life, such as in the legal system,” said the mother.

The police program started in October 2021.

Police say of the calls that could have led to 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 to the one we saw in Virginia.

“A lot of law enforcement organizations are saying, ‘We want a different way to respond to a person experiencing a crisis, more than presenting a risk to public safety,'” Quattlebaum said.

There are also critics like Dr. Alex Del Carmen, who has trained thousands of officials at the FBI Training Academy.

He questions how safe it is to have a psychologist in the car who is not an officer with formal police training.

His concern is “whether you’re really exposing another person to a very dangerous situation that they may not be ready for, and so the officer will not only have to worry about his or her life, but also the life of that person. “

Police said it was something they were thinking about as well.

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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