Jefferson City Police Face Rise in Mental Health Calls

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JEFFERSON CITY - The Jefferson City Police Department is facing a problem that is taking multiple officers off of the streets at least multiple times a week. This is an issue the JCPD said it has dealt with for many years, however, recently it has seen an increase.

The problem is the number of mental health issue calls officers are taking. 

In 2012 the JCPD handled 323 suicide calls alone--that number does not include other mental health calls. The department completed 97 mental health transports, meaning an officer accompanies the subject call to the hospital or health center, even if it is as far away as Joplin. In 2013, it handled 368 suicide calls, not including other mental health calls, and completed 124 mental health transports.

Jefferson City police have recently started working with St. Mary's Hospital to work out a system for the center to take involuntary commitments. An involuntary commitment is an individual needing evaluation because of some mental health crisis. The involuntary commitment is given by a judge's order, and with that order, the police department is able to take the individual into custody and drive him or her to the nearest treatment facility.

Taking involuntary commitments is a new task for St. Mary's Hospital, and a work in progress between the police department and St. Mary's. Due to lack of bed space, individuals suffering from mental health issues have to be taken to other hospitals with open bed space. If the individual has not had an evaluation done yet, he or she must be evaluated and then be transported by ambulance along with the officer to a hospital with open space.  

The captain of operations with the Jefferson City Police Department, Robert Clark, said, "In the past we have never had any place to take involuntary commitments. A lot of the times, the issues we had to deal with, we'd have to go up to Columbia, or if beds were full, we've been as far as St. Louis and Joplin, Mo."  

These calls can take officers off of the road anywhere from two to ten or more hours. It is all dependent upon what mental health facilities have space and if they are able to commit the individual. Many times individuals suffering from mental health issues fall through the cracks and the JCPD will take the same person numerous times to the hospital. 

"The whole issue with the police department and law enforcement that is very taxing on our system is there are officers spending an inordinate amount of time having to deal with individuals that need help or are in crisis," said Clark.

The problem has not gone unnoticed. The Missouri Coalition of Community Health Centers, an advocacy group for outpatient mental health treatment centers, knows there is insufficient inpatient bed space throughout the state of Missouri, and realizes bed space is often full in Jefferson City. A lack of funding poses many problems for the coalition. 

Brent McGinty, CEO of the group, said, "One of the ways we can solve that is through Medicaid expansion."

For the 2015 fiscal year, the coalition requested $530 million for community services in the governor's budget. McGinty said Medicaid expansion would fund another $98 million in needed services.  But so far, the Missouri General Assembly has resisted expansion, defeating proposals to do so last year and opposing similar proposals so far this year.

 Last year the coalition started an initiative program to help combat the mental health issue. This was funded in the governor's budget and supported by the general assembly. The initiative program would start seven pilot sites throughout the state to demonstrate new ideas on how to move people from the inpatient beds to the community faster. It also put thirty mental health liaisons across the state of Missouri who work with law enforcement, judges and treatment courts in their communities.

"We need to have better linkages between community mental health centers and that capacity to move people off those wards and into community treatment and stable housing in a faster way," said McGinty. 

Two of the initiative programs have already been implemented in St. Louis and Kansas City, and more are underway in Jefferson City, Southwest Missouri and Northeast Missouri. The immediate goal for the coalition is to find additional funding to let providers of mental health care staff up and continue services.