Tallmadge Police Reform Program Seeks to Address Mental Health Crises
A new pilot program in Tallmadge seeks to reduce the number of people with mental illness ending up in jail by giving police 24/7 access to social workers during 911 calls.
If successful, the program could be expanded to the rest of Summit County.
“There’s all this talk about police reform and police funding, and that idea is a little different,” Tallmadge Police Chief Ronald Williams said. “We can handle it, but let’s find a way to do it better. The goal is just to try and provide better service to that part of the population.”
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In recent years, police departments across the country have rethought the way they respond to mental health crises, with some cities like Los Angeles and San Antonio teaming up with mental health professionals to work as ” co-speakers “. Other cities, like Denver and Eugene, Oregon, send mental health professionals, rather than the police, to certain emergency calls.
Many of these reforms come as the public outcry over police fire continues. According to a Washington Post database of fatal shootings by on-duty police officers, since 2015, police have shot and killed 1,495 people with mental illness, including 48 in Ohio.
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In Summit County, the Board of Alcohol, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services funded Portage Path Behavioral Health to create a new county-wide crisis model to help and develop a framework for emergency support services.
On October 1, they launched the Tallmadge pilot program that connects officers to the Emergency Support Services team of licensed psychiatric emergency services clinicians – by phone call, FaceTime, or in person – to help assess situations involving mental health crises, determining next steps and developing ongoing personalized safety plans.
The program is part of the County Stepping Up Committee, which was established in response to the National Stepping Up Initiative which calls on counties to develop action plans to reduce the prevalence of mental illness in prisons.
According to Stepping Up, people with mental illness are admitted to prison 2 million times a year. Almost three-quarters of them also struggle with substance abuse issues and, once incarcerated, tend to stay longer in prison and are more likely to return to prison.
Fifty-five of Ohio’s 88 counties, including Summit, are currently working on their own Stepping Up initiatives.
The Summit County Stepping Up Subcommittee is chaired by Portage Path Psychiatric Emergency Services Coordinator Amana Marunich and Akron Police Sgt. James Donohue. It includes representatives of the ADM Board of Directors and affiliated organizations, security forces and community partners.
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“We are currently developing a collaborative structure for emergency support services and are committed to building a strong system of care and resources to meet the needs of those experiencing crises,” said Marunich.
The pilot project also builds on the County Crisis Response Team program, established 21 years ago, which educates officers about mental illness and teaches them de-escalation techniques to reduce the harm done to them. themselves and those involved in mental health crisis situations.
In Tallmadge, all but two of the officers are already trained in CIT, and 100 percent of the department will be trained by the end of the year, according to Ralph Stover, head of Tallmadge and coordinator of CIT funded by the ADM board.
Marunich said Tallmadge was chosen for the program because Stover and CIT deputy coordinator Gina Greenhalgh worked at Tallmadge.
Stover explained that dispatchers are already trained to send a trained CIT agent to 911 calls involving mental health crises. In the past, agents resolved the situation; determine that the individual would receive immediate assistance from Portage Path’s Behavioral Health Psychiatric Emergency Services; or decide that the person should be taken to hospital.
âThe basic idea of ââthe pilot program is to provide another avenue of support,â Stover said. “We can call and talk to the clinician. It takes the decision away from us, and then the mental health professionals can put them in place with resources and tell us where to take them.”
The program also speeds up the tracking process and better connects individuals to resources and options, added Marunich.
Outcome data will be analyzed at the end of the first trimester of the program and could be expanded if there are fewer people with mental illness in the local prison, a decrease in psychiatric hospitalizations for people facing health emergencies mental health, increased connection to mental health services, and better satisfaction among community members.
âThese are exciting times for Summit County in terms of mental health and we are in a critical transition,â said Stover. âMental health is huge and it really affects law enforcement. We are trying to find better ways to support the community. People want to cut these types of calls, so we want to find a balance to help the police serve them better and give them more support and resources.
Journalist Krista S. Kano can be reached at 330-541-9416, [email protected] or on Twitter @KristaKanoABJ.