City and County Giving Police More Help With Mental Health Related Calls

Lincoln, NE (May 2, 2021)  It’s a problem all around the Country.  Police officers and Sheriff’s deputies, trained in the law, firearms, and hand to hand combat have been asked more frequently in recent years to deal with calls in which people with mental health problems are the major offenders.  Many are complaining they’re not equipped to deal with the de-escalation and intervention skills needed to calm the situation.  Lincoln and Lancaster County have been working on solutions.

Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird today joined other City and Lancaster County officials to announce additional funding to improve the community’s response for those experiencing mental health crises. The support includes existing City funding of $150,000 included in the 2020-21 budget and two new federal Department of Justice grants totaling over $1.1 million received by Lancaster County to enhance juvenile services:

  • A $500,000 grant through the Juvenile Justice System Enhancements program will provide crisis response and evidence-based aftercare community services for young people.
  • A $622,883 grant through Juvenile Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Program will provide for the development and implementation of a pretrial mental health diversion opportunity for youth.

“As Lancaster County Attorney, I’ve prioritized juvenile diversion programs and successfully developed nationally-recognized programs to divert hundreds of juveniles in our community away from the juvenile justice system,” said Pat Condon.  “The grants discussed here today are an exciting opportunity to further expand our programming to specifically address mental health, behavioral health, and substance abuse needs, and to build on our existing community partnerships and robust collaborative efforts.”

“The Lancaster County Board of Commissioners understands that the future of our community rests in our youth,” said County Commission Chair Rick Vest.  “To that end, we believe that this funding is a critical component to helping our youth and their families and will have long-term positive impacts on our community. We are very excited with the additional behavioral health supports provided by our community partnerships this funding will provide for our youth and families.”

The City’s investments focus on better equipping law enforcement professionals to respond to mental health calls for service.  Acting Police Chief Brian Jackson said those calls have been increasing over the past decade, and the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the increase. So far in 2021, the Lincoln Police Department (LPD) has seen a 20-percent increase in mental health calls for service compared to the same time period the previous four years.

“We continue to make investments in public safety that allow us to address the needs of our community holistically,” Mayor Gaylor Baird said. “We are providing additional public safety resources to respond to the increase in mental health calls and the growing need to support both vulnerable residents and the officers who serve them.  Our budget invests $150,000 to support additional services and training to enhance the response for residents experiencing a mental health crisis.”

The Mayor said a group of community stakeholders determined that the funds can be best used in three key areas:

  • Funds will be used to strengthen existing partnerships to serve residents with mental health issues. Jackson said LPD’s partnership with the Mental Health Association of Nebraska on the R.E.A.L. program is helping to reduce calls for service and to improve the quality of life for residents. The program connects peer advocates who have experienced mental illness with people who have non-criminal interactions with police officers. Since its inception in 2011, over 300 officers have made nearly 4,000 referrals to the program. The City is providing funding for an additional peer outreach worker for the R.E.A.L. program; absorbing the costs of the program previously funded by the Community Health Endowment; and incorporating ongoing support for the R.E.A.L. program. The City will also fund a dedicated coordinator to assist LPD in working with human service agencies to identify individuals who have ongoing interactions with law enforcement.
  • New investments will be made in mental health training for law enforcement professionals. Additional funding will allow more LPD Officers access to the training offered by Region V and local community agencies through the Behavioral Health Threat Assessment program.
  • Funds will be used to  explore non-law-enforcement alternatives for responding to mental health crises incidents. The City has contracted with the White Bird Clinic of Eugene, Oregon to develop a framework for a mobile crisis intervention service program. One of the Clinic’s successful programs is a professionally staffed van that  responds to non-criminal situations including substance abuse, mental/emotional crises and other issues.

In addition to these investments, LPD has named a Mental Health Coordinator to lead change efforts in the Department. “LPD is only one part of the public safety team in our community,” Jackson said.  “We all work together to improve the quality of life here in Lincoln.”

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