Photo by Visitor7/Wikimedia

Photo by Visitor7/Wikimedia

Program before lawmakers could strengthen mental health crisis response

The aim is to provide those in need with services instead of jail time.

A proposed pilot project would partner mental health professionals and local law enforcement officers on calls that involve a mental health crisis.

HB 2892 would create a grant from the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs to fund services from mental health professionals who would either go with police officers on calls or respond to scenes when requested. The bill was voted out of the House Public Safety Committee and advanced to the rules committee on last Thursday, Feb. 1.

“Our current system works, but I think it is a system that can be expensive and at times ineffective,” said Representative John Lovick, D-Snohomish, the bill’s prime sponsor. “Jails are not designed to be mental health treatment centers.”

Lovick said he brought the bill before lawmakers when he saw a similar program in action in Edmonds while he was volunteering at the Edmonds Gospel Mission. He said having a mental health professional on the scene can better serve someone in a crisis.

The legislation’s aim, he said, is to improve the initial law enforcement interaction with people in a crisis, increase bystander and officer safety, and connect those who need it with mental health services instead of jail.

“Somebody in a mental health crisis is not in and of themselves, by virtue of their crisis, committing a crime, but our system continues to send law enforcement officers as its only response,” said James McMahan, policy director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.

He said that the bill would require the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs to provide a study of the grant program’s effectiveness to make sure it works. He said that could establish a foundation on which to build future response teams.

“We see cities as policy innovation mechanisms, as agents,” said Logan Bahr, government relations advocate for the Association of Washington Cities. “This is a great marriage between the state and locals in responding to the needs of our communities.”

Partnerships with mental health professionals have already proven effective. McMahan explained two working models: the Seattle model, in which a professional is in the passenger seat of a patrol vehicle, and the navigator model, in which a mental health professional goes to a scene on their own upon request of an officer who is already there.

“The most critical point in this program is to have the mental health professional there on scene in that moment of crisis,” McMahan said.

Karl Hatton, regional emergency communications director for Jefferson and Clallam counties, said 911 operators should be included in the program because they have the best sense of who needs to respond to a scene. He also said that ongoing training for 911 operators should be included in the bill’s language so they know how to best respond as the first point of contact.

Lovick said he is seeking at least a couple million dollars for the grant and hopes to implement at least one project on each side of the state. The funding could come from a small surcharge on traffic citations. However, the funding won’t be determined until the bill reaches the appropriations committee.

The bill was introduced late in the session, but Lovick is optimistic that it will pass this year.

“If we do it, it’s going to be done this year,” he said. “This is really a time to bring the community together to see what we can do to work with the vulnerable population.”

Chair of the House Public Safety Committee Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, sponsored a similar bill, HB 2234, which has a companion bill in the Senate, SB 5970, sponsored by Senator David Frockt, D-Kenmore.


In consideration of how we voice our opinions in the modern world, we’ve closed comments on our websites. We value the opinions of our readers and we encourage you to keep the conversation going.

Please feel free to share your story tips by emailing editor@bellevuereporter.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.bellevuereporter.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) We reserve the right to edit letters, but if you keep yours to 300 words or less, we won’t ask you to shorten it.

More in Northwest

Seattle Children’s Hospital (Courtesy photo)
Seattle Children’s Hospital identifies racial disparities in infections, security response

The healthcare provider did not respond to multiple requests for data used to identify disparities.

File photo/Sound Publishing
Ban on single-use plastic bags in WA begins Oct. 1

Shoppers will have the choice to pay for a reusable plastic or recycled paper bag.

Courtesy Photo, Port of Seattle
Port of Seattle to require vaccinations for employees

2,200 workers must be vaccinated by Nov. 15

People hold up signs in protest of Gov. Jay Inslee’s latest proclamations during a Rally for Medical Freedom on Aug. 25 in Buckley. Photo by Alex Bruell/Sound Publishing
State workers get incentive to comply with vaccine mandate

An agreement between the state and their union also provides for some leeway in meeting the deadline.

This is a screenshot that shows the pursuit of a stolen vehicle Sept. 1 on Interstate 5 in King County.
VIDEO: Auburn police let suspected vehicle thief go, citing new laws

State laws passed earlier this spring require police to have probable cause to engage in a pursuit.

Juanita High School student Ria Mahon. Courtesy photo
Student brings awareness to menstrual health among Puget Sound’s homeless

When Ria Mohan, a junior of Juanita High School in Kirkland, had… Continue reading

Matt Axe, the Wildfire and Forest Resiliency Coordinator with the King Conservation District, speaks to homeowner Anita Kissee-Wilder about fire reduction strategies at her home in North Bend on Aug. 24. Photo by Conor Wilson/Valley Record.
King County braces for more wildfires in rural areas

Firefighters have already responded to a number of large fires.

t
New data dashboard tracks COVID-19 risk for unvaccinated, vaccinated people

Information compiled by Public Health – Seattle & King County

This 2019 security footage at the Cenex gas station in Black Diamond shows Anthony Chilcott on his phone before entering, and driving off with, Carl Sanders’ Ford Raptor and Monkey, his poodle, in the front seat. Courtesy photo
Oversight office releases scathing report on King County Sheriff’s Office

Report analyzes 2019 killing of Anthony Chilcott by deputies.

Close-up hand using phone in night time on street. File photo
King County Council steps closer to establishing hate crime hotline

The program is aimed at reducing the number of unreported hate crimes.

A Link light rail train travels underneath the University of Washington during testing to open the new line to Northgate. COURTESY PHOTO, Sound Transit
Northgate Link light rail testing moves into final stages

Three new north Seattle stations opening Oct. 2