The Frederick Police Department plans to unveil a new program in July that will create a special crisis team of a police officer, a paramedic and a mental health professional that can respond to calls involving people in the midst of a mental health crisis.
The department's “crisis car” will respond to mental health emergencies across the city, doing follow-up visits and wellness checks on patients when the team is not responding to active calls, city officials said Wednesday.
While the idea that some calls are better handled by mental health workers than police officers is becoming more popular across the country, not many programs pair the three disciplines of law enforcement, mental health and emergency services, Frederick Police Chief Jason Lando said.
The six-month pilot program will run Monday through Friday in the afternoons beginning July 1 and lasting through the end of the year, with the hope that it becomes a full-time program.
The program is a partnership between the police department, mental health provider Sheppard Pratt, the Mental Health Association of Frederick County, Frederick County Fire & Rescue Services, the City of Frederick Department of Housing & Human Services and the Frederick County Health Department.
Five Frederick officers have volunteered to take part in the pilot.
“They want to see different outcomes,” Lando said. “They don't want to be in a situation where they're using force any more than necessary.”
The program will team a non-uniformed officer with a civilian mental health worker and a paramedic/EMT in an unmarked car.
Having officers in plainclothes and in an unmarked car is important in order to illustrate that having a mental health issue is not a crime, said Scott Rose, chief of rehabilitation and recovery services at Sheppard Pratt.
Research is clear that combining law enforcement and mental health services can be more efficient and cost-effective, he said.
Frederick's program could be a state or even national example to follow, Rose said.
The idea for the program began with many of the conversations about the role of police that began last summer, Frederick Mayor Michael O'Connor said.
Much of those discussions revolved around the idea that police officers are not always the best people to respond to a situation.
The idea was a key topic of conversation when Lando was hired earlier this year, O'Connor said.
Frederick Alderman Kelly Russell, a retired Frederick police officer, called the pilot program an “awesome” opportunity for the city and the community, with the chance to provide a way of entering the mental health system that's not necessarily driven by law enforcement.