Frederick County has taken a giant step forward to improve community policing and public safety by expanding the services of a team of counselors and other specialists to help those experiencing a mental health crisis.
This should also make the job of police officers in this community simpler and safer.
One of the most difficult assignments for police officers here and around the country is to respond to a 911 call for a mentally ill person having a crisis. We have all seen the horrible videos of officers trying to help a troubled person acting erratically.
Too often these encounters end badly, often for the mentally ill person and sometimes for the police officers as well.
That is why we applaud the announcement this week by County Executive Jan Gardner that the county will expand the use of a Mobile Crisis Services team, which provides social workers, counselors and other specialists to help people experiencing mental health, substance abuse, homelessness or other issues.
Frederick County law enforcement officers, confronted with a mental health crisis, will be able to call on the specifically trained crisis team, rather than having to deal with the emergency alone.
We as a society demand so much from our police officers, and sometimes it is just too much. Dealing with mental health crises takes a special kind of training, one which few police officers have. The crisis team will give police the kind of backup they need if they are called, and it will allow dispatchers to avoid sending them to less urgent situations.
Gardner said she talked with Sheriff Chuck Jenkins about the program and the county has worked with Frederick, Brunswick and Thurmont police departments on the new service.
Capt. Jeff Eyler, the sheriff’s patrol operations commander, said in an email, that his office is committed to working with the new program.
“Daily, deputies encounter members of our community that are in crisis,” Eyler said. “The expansion of these services will allow our personnel to regularly consult with professionals from Mobile Crisis Services and provide those in crisis with the appropriate resources in a more timely manner.”
In August, the Frederick County Council approved a $130,000 transfer from the sheriff’s office’s budget to help fund the program, as well as $275,000 in January from the county budget as part of a larger transfer.
The service will be managed by the Frederick County Health Department’s Behavioral Health Services through an agreement with Sheppard Pratt Hospital, one of the oldest psychiatric hospitals in the nation.
Initially the service will be available from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week for adults and 24 hours a day for children. In June, the program will expand to full 24-hour services for everyone.
The mobile team can be requested by law enforcement to help with calls they respond to or by family or others through the county’s 911 center or the 211 crisis hotline, which is maintained by the Mental Health Association of Frederick County.
Until now, most families dealing with a crisis that had spun out of their control have usually resorted to calling the police, not knowing where else to turn for help. A trained mental health team has significantly better chance of dealing with a crisis without it spiraling into violence or worse.
Gardner told News-Post reporter Ryan Marshall that demand for mental health services has risen sharply during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Scott Rose, chief of rehabilitation and recovery services at Sheppard Pratt, told our reporter that when the team members arrive at a scene, they will evaluate the patient and determine what services they may need.
Counselors will also contact the patient or their family the day after a call to follow up, he said. Officials will monitor the program to check its effectiveness.
Timely access to care and a compassionate response can significantly improve outcomes on situations to which they respond, said Andrea Walker, director of behavioral health services at the Frederick County Health Department.
Gardner, Jenkins and the mental health professionals here in the county and at Sheppard Pratt all deserve praise for getting this program up and running.