As the COVID-19 pandemic enters its second year, police officers in Arlington are seeing more people dealing with mental health issues.
“We saw a tremendous increase in mental health calls and suicide calls,” said Jonathan Ventura, chief of the Arlington Police Department.
Arlington is partnering with Marysville and Lake Stevens police departments to hire two mental health professionals who will work alongside police officers. In 2020, the Marysville Police Department received 1,500 mental health service calls, Arlington received 900 and Lake Stevens received 425, according to information from the City of Marysville.
Ventura noted calls for burglary or trespassing calls often become a different situation. “It’s amazing how many of those turn into a mental health call.”
The Arlington Police Department several years ago implemented a law enforcement embedded social worker program. A social worker and police officer partner together to tackle homelessness and drug abuse issues. They help people secure housing, enter detox programs or inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation.
“Our current embedded program is phenomenal,” Ventura said, noting the embedded social worker program throughout Marysville, Arlington and North Snohomish County has helped find housing for more than 300 people.
He said the social worker and officer know 90 percent of the homeless in the area. They still encounter people who resist help and will continue to try and build trust with the homeless in Arlington.
Ventura said there isn’t enough data yet to talk about crime in the city in 2020, but he expects some increases in crimes such as shoplifting and theft due to the bad economy. He said the department’s call volume is down, but 911 calls are up. Incidents come from a combination of 911 calls and officer-initiated activity.
When the lockdown stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic occurred in March 2020, the department initially struggled with finding necessary personal protective equipment for its personnel.
They purchased hand sanitizer produced from a local distillery, local quilters made face masks and local businesses donated sanitizers, cleaners and disinfectants.
“The community really stepped up until the supply chain caught up,” Ventura said. He added the department currently has the PPE it needs.
He said the department quickly jumped on the Centers for Disease Control guidelines to help limit the spread of COVID-19. “Overall, we’ve been lucky.”
He complimented the dedication of the department’s employees and their ability to adapt to changes. “Our guys were out there still doing their jobs.”
Ventura highlighted several other goals for the coming year.
Professional standards will also be a focus for the coming year. The department will examine the mechanisms of oversight and look at audits from professional organizations.
In response to Defund Police, the department is looking at ways to reach out to the community and make sure it is transparent.
“Are there other opportunities to be more engaged with the community? Are there other ways to be accountable to the community? It’s not our police department, it’s your police department,” Ventura said.
The department is expected to deal with budget challenges as a result of the pandemic. One such area is jail costs, which have seen medical cost increases due to the pandemic, the drug epidemic and other health problems. Ventura said it’s incumbent on the department to figure ways to limit costs.
The department may consider alternatives to arrest, diversion programs, home monitoring and probation or parole opportunities. “That’s going to be a big consideration for us,” Ventura said.