Data Shows Spokane Behavioral Health Unit Seems Successful in Helping People in Crisis | News

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SPOKANE COUNTY, Wash. – It’s been more than two years since the Spokane Regional Behavioral Health Unit was established to help people in crisis before it escalated into something criminal or someone got hurt .

Recently released data shows that the unit has been successful.

The data was released just days before we heard of a suicidal man threatening to kill himself, police and people inside an elementary school just across the street in Coeur d’Alene. The man was later shot dead by the police.

Sheriff’s deputies did not say whether mental health experts were on site, but it highlights the importance of a program like BHU in eastern Washington.

“I have people with me, we are a little worried about you,” said a BHU officer.

The Spokane Regional Behavioral Health Unit was created in 2019 ahead of a nationwide campaign to change the way police respond to calls involving people in crisis.

“We want to see if we can help you,” the officer continues.

Police often saw the same people over and over again as repeat cases increased.

“Before, we have individuals who are going to be imprisoned for offenses and who have just been released and who commit the same offenses repeatedly throughout the day. Sometimes they are imprisoned several times a day,” said the director of the BHU, Sgt. said Jay Kernkamp. “We had officers and people in crisis waiting in emergency rooms for hours. They were just waiting for a bed.”

Within months of the unit’s inception, demand was so high that they needed more matching teams. In two years, their unit has almost doubled, going from 4 to 7 teams. It is made up of Spokane PD-trained officers, Spokane Valley officers, sheriff’s deputies and Frontier Behavior Health clinicians.

“We are able to identify people in crisis if they have heightened emotion, decreased reasoning, concurrent disorders, need medication, are homeless and need housing. If they need drug treatment,” he said.

“If you ever need to talk to someone about it, I have a phone number you can call. I don’t know if you know it,” an officer said.

The key is early identification and early intervention.

“It’s about providing them with the right services at the right time in the right place when needed,” Kernkamp said.

The goal is to keep these people out of jail, out of the hospital, and into the wards they need before something goes wrong…and it works.

The unit answered 9% more calls from people in crisis in 2021 compared to 2020. Of more than 4,000 people contacted, just under 80% had an outcome other than prison or hospital.

33 people were arrested, a 27% decrease in arrests since 2020. And more than 45 hundred calls were picked up from the patrol.

“We are able to reduce calls for service, reduce the use of force, and prevent prisons and emergency rooms from being bogged down with these services,” he said.

Other information:

  • 306 people were diverted from arrestable offenses and diverted from hospitals.
  • They responded to almost 400 suicidal calls, followed 470 people, made 769 calls for social assistance and assisted designated crisis responders in more than 1,200 calls.
  • 680 people were placed in involuntary treatment because they represented a danger to themselves or to others.

Kernkamp said there is definitely a need to expand the unit because the demand is so high that of course there is a lot of community support going both ways.

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