According to the Washington Post database, about a quarter of all fatal police shootings in the last six years involved someone experiencing a mental health crisis. A man in psychological distress died after police in Rochester, N.Y., placed a bag over his head and pinned him to the ground. In Salt Lake City, a mother called 911 for help with her 13-year-old son, who has autism, only to watch as officers shot him 11 times, leaving him partly paralyzed. More than one-third of the calls where Montgomery County police exerted force in 2020 involved people “suffering from some form of mental illness,” a report said.
Montgomery’s crisis center has built a strong record over three decades of resolving conflicts peacefully and keeping people out of jail. Unfortunately, funding has been tight the past few years. The current 24 counselors were forced to refuse calls for help due to the service gap they are facing. The number of crisis counselors were doubled after the George Floyd incident in an early attempt towards police reform.
Montgomery’s center treats walk-in patients, refers people to services and oversees a short-term residential program, in addition to running a 24/7 mobile crisis unit. It got a funding boost in the early 2000s, after a searing report concluded that the county’s behavioral health system was “in collapse,” with poor residents often unable to access care until their illnesses landed them in jail, juvenile detention facilities or homeless shelters.
The crisis center’s mobile team responds to an average of 40 calls a month in 2020. However, County police were sent to about 582 mental health calls monthly. There is an increasing need for additional funding for mental health responses.
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