A new local program will allow mental health specialists to accompany Arlington and Marysville police to respond to emergency calls soon.
The Marysville, Arlington and Lake Stevens police departments received a $95,000 grant from the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs for the initiative.
Those departments will partner with Compass Health in the pilot program.
The grant was awarded at the beginning of this year and officials could start the program by March 1.
The partnership and inter-local agreements had to be worked out after the money was received, said Marysville police commander Wendy Wade, who is overseeing the program.
“This is a pretty exciting program,” said Wade. “We as police really only have the one way to deal with mental health crises: involuntary commitment,” she said.
The program is expected to bring in new options for handling emergencies for police, she said.
“Once you bring in Compass Health, that opens a whole different set of resources for people who are in crisis,” said Wade.
Police respond to a wide range of emergencies where mental health professionals can help.
“Though television may have taught us to believe that law enforcement's primary function is crime prevention, the reality is police spend most of their time resolving conflicts such as family disputes or providing other services to the community,” said Arlington police chief Jonathan Ventura.
“Police and social workers frequently target the same groups with varying success, so it is only fitting we combine resources for better outcomes,” he said.
A mental health professional will have an office with the Marysville Police Department to do paperwork but also go out on patrol in all three jurisdictions.
“We’ll have a mental health professional riding along with us and they can do an assessment right there,” said Wade.
There are many types of calls the department gets that a mental health professional could help with, she said.
“A lot of times they will go to calls without really knowing what is happening,” said Wade.
“For example someone might say their son is ‘out of control’ and we don’t really know what that means,” she said. “Oftentimes these would be the perfect calls for a mental health professional.”
If any of the three police departments has a call where a mental health official could definitely help, they can go out to that call as well.
“If Arlington for example had a suicide call, or another call where they could use a mental health professional, we can send them up there during those incidents,” said Wade.
She said that the hope is that instead of involuntary commitment, which is the primary way police can handle a mental health crisis, the Compass Health official can provide other pathways for conflict resolution.
“Police and social services have a long history of working together. Social service has always been a crucial part of policing, while serving crime victims has always been emphasized by social workers,” said Ventura.
Police don’t have the same kind of tools that a mental health professional will, said Wade.
“That’s a master’s degree” worth of work, she said.
Marysville and Arlington already run an embedded social worker program meant to reach out to homeless individuals who have drug abuse problems and help them into treatment.
“This is really a great complement to that,” said Wade, who said that there are people who have mental health crises who aren’t homeless and don’t use drugs but still need support.
The mental health program is based off of a similar initiative in Skagit County that has been successful, said Wade.
She said that Marysville’s police chief has been pushing for the program since he was hired in September.
“This is something that he has been passionate about bringing to the area,” said Wade.
The initial pilot program will last six months. After that the three departments will look at the results and see if they want to continue in some form, said Wade.