Project 573 Covers Mental Illness in Mid-Missouri
Project 573 joined Sarah Hill on KOMU 8 News at Noon Thursday to talk about covering mental illness in mid-Missouri.
BOONE COUNTY — Boone County Sheriff's Department Sgt. Mike Krohn eases his 6-foot-4-inch stocky frame into his squad car. He buckles his seat belt and turns on the beeping electronic devices that make up his satellite office.
It's from this vantage point in 2005 that Krohn first saw inefficiencies in the way the Sheriff's Department addressed situations involving people with mental illness. Dwayne Carey had just become sheriff in Boone County, and promoted Krohn to his current rank of sergeant.
Krohn began to notice an increasing number of crisis situations during his afternoon and evening shifts. Deputies weren't trained to respond to people who were mentally ill and get them the help they needed. Instead, these people were often locked up - the cause of their problems unaddressed.
"Since it happened on my shift and I was the guy recognizing it, it fell to me," Krohn said.
So Krohn did what he says law enforcement workers are trained to do.
"Identify that there's a problem, assess the problem, develop a possible solution for the problem and then implement the solution," Krohn said.
Krohn has since been involved with two programs that have improved the way the Sheriff's Department interacts with those with mental illness. Virtual mental health courts have helped the department become more efficient. Crisis intervention training has been crucial to those on the job. The program currently comes at no cost to participants, but it is in danger of disappearing due to a lack of funding.
If a doctor determines a person is mentally ill and needs immediate treatment, the individual can be detained in a psychiatric facility for up to 96 hours. A judge must approve longer commitments.
While some patients are willing to continue treatment, often the county probate court demands further hospitalization. The person, alongside doctors and attorneys, has to appear before a judge for this to happen in an involuntary commitment hearing.
The Sheriff's Department deputies used to carry the responsibility of transporting consumers from treatment facilities to the courthouse for these hearings.
But the process was problematic.
Even though some hearings lasted just 10 minutes, deputies spent hours transporting patients, waiting for hearings to finish, taking patients back to treatment facilities and finishing paperwork.
Krohn noticed the department was pulling deputies from other duties to transport patients from their psychiatric facility to the court for these hearings. Doctors also left their daily duties at the hospital to testify on their patient's condition, adding to the workload of those left at the hospital.
Deputies were required to exercise standard operating procedures when transporting people suffering from mental illness, even when moving people who were calm and non-violent. This meant handcuffing the person and putting him or her in the back of a locked squad car. The procedures were meant to protect against violent episodes, but they sometimes had a jarring effect.
In 2008, Krohn began working alongside Associate Circuit Judge Deborah Daniels, who presides over the involuntary commitment hearings as the head of the county's probate court, to research the possibility of a virtual court. The concept allowed the court to set up a videoconference system in which the person who is mentally ill appears in the courtroom through a video-call stationed at his or her treatment site.
The new process is more efficient for everyone.
"Those people who are at the Sheriff's Department can get back to doing the business that we normally associate a sheriff's department with doing," Daniels said.
It's hard not to notice the circular white, red and black CIT badge pinned onto the chest of Krohn's uniform as he drives down a bumpy Boone County gravel road.
The badge is a pride point for the deputy. He has not only earned the Crisis Intervention Team training certification himself, but provided the opportunity for colleagues statewide to become certified as well. But the program could disappear if a new source of funding is not found.
The training program originated in Memphis. The 40-hour program teaches law enforcement suicide prevention techniques and basic pharmacology lessons. It educates officers and deputies - often the first people on scene during a crisis - on how to respond quickly and effectively to people in a crisis situation.
Krohn was also crucial in bringing crisis intervention training to Boone County in 2008. He worked with other law enforcement officials in and outside his department to secure funding for the training.
The money initially came from a $250,000 endowment from the Missouri Department of Mental Health.
But recent budget cuts mean money for the training is drying up.
The program is currently running on a two-year, $100,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice. The grant expires in September.
The executive Crisis Intervention Training Council, a group of Missouri law enforcement officials in which Krohn participates, currently organizes free training for law enforcement workers.
The sessions will not be possible if new funding is not found.
"I hate to be that guy that has constantly got his hand out," Krohn said. "But I mean the funding has got to come from somewhere."
Project 573 provides innovative journalism that expands awareness and broadens perspective about a localized issue.
Made up of seniors at the Missouri School of Journalism, the capstone course brings together students from the school's different sequences (print and digital news, radio/TV journalism, magazine, photojournalism, convergence journalism and strategic communication) for an experiment in cross-platform storytelling.
To see the rest of Project 573's stories, visit the website here.