Help instead of Handcuffs – A New Approach to Mental Health Related Calls

Local News
SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 UTAH) Approximately five-thousand. That’s how many mental health related calls Unified Police deal with every year. 
   
Officers often get tied up responding to the same house and the same people and end up at the same place – jail. But Unified PD is trying to change that by starting up a Mental Health Unit.
 
In fact, part of team just spent a week in Los Angeles learning training with the LAPD mental health unit. They saw first hand how police there deal with these cases and how they get subjects help instead of putting them in handcuffs. In our Behind the Badge report we learn more about this new unit and what it hopes to accomplish.
 
Sergeant Jodie Sampson and Detective Arlan Bennett make contact with a man known for repeated incidents in his neighborhood connected to mental health issues. The 23-year-old’s mother doesn’t know what to do about his behavior. “He doesn’t trust me. He won’t get in my car.” And how to get him the help he needs. “He thinks anywhere he goes with mommy I am going to take him to the hospital.” 
 
The Unified officers are hoping they can help.
 
Sampson and Bennett are part of Unified’s new Mental Health Unit. The unit is something former Sheriff Jim Winder helped put in place before he left his post for his new job as police chief in Moab.  “Jail is not the right place for people who are mentally ill.” Winder, who was the Salt Lake County’s Sheriff for a decade says law enforcement needs to change its approach in dealing with mental health issues. “What you got is people who essentially have fallen through the cracks in society and they end up in situations on the street and then they engage in a minor status offenses and end up in jail.” “We all pay for it as citizens over and over and over again – with no real resolution.”
 
The officers and county social workers in the new unit believe they can make a difference as they respond to calls from officers who believe they are dealing with a mental health case.  Sgt. Sampson says “If we can build that trust with him so he will allow us to take him or the clinician – if we can just get him in the habit of going and get him stable – then the call volume from this house goes down.” 
 
And they’ll have help. Sgt Sampson has been teaching other officers about mental health issues as they launch the new unit. She wants officers informed about mental health and know they can call the MHU team to take over cases. And she and her former boss hope as they get to know those with mental health issues – they can offer them real help. Winder says”We’ve all looked at it as hammer and nail. They’ve done something wrong – they go to jail.” “This unit breaks that pattern – allows a different approach and hopefully allows us to connect them to the finite services that we do have.” 
 
The Unified Police mental health unit is just getting started. Sgt. Sampson is the lead and UPD plans to have about eight officers and a Salt Lake County clinician on the team to help get subjects the services they need. 
     
To check out out Behind the Badge stories and to nominate an officer for a future story go to:  http://www.good4utah.com/badge

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