Crime & Courts

New $3.5 million program will pair up CMPD officers and mental health experts

In the latest effort by Charlotte-Mecklenburg police to handle mental health crises, six mental health clinicians will be available to respond to calls alongside police officers, according to CMPD Chief Kerr Putney.

The new program, which Putney said will launch in April or early May, was approved by the Charlotte City Council on Jan. 14. The city will pay nearly $3.5 million during the next five years to partner with local mental healthcare provider CriSyS, according to the contract.

The clinicians will help make sure people get follow-up care after a crisis and take medication on time, which could reduce repeated 911 calls from the same patients, Putney told reporters Wednesday.

When crises do happen, the clinicians are expected to help de-escalate tense situations — but if the person has a weapon, Putney said, the clinicians will keep their distance. That’s typical practice for non-police officers, including firefighters and paramedics, at volatile scenes.

“What you’re not going to see is our clinicians rushing up, trying to do the job that police do,” Putney said.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police have killed several people with reported mental health issues in the past decade and injured others, including a 29-year-old man shot by police in December.

Police reported that several of the victims were suspected to have knives or other weapons at the time of the shootings. Putney said weapons limit how an officer can handle the situation at the scene.

“Our goal is always to reduce injuries, obviously to the community but also to our officers,” Putney said.

The clinicians will go through specialized training before they’re paired with police officers, said Keshia Ginn, president of the CriSyS Mecklenburg County Mobile Crisis Services. Clinicians will rotate shifts between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. and work during the night as needed, Ginn said.

Under Mobile Crisis, the program that’s currently in place, CMPD officers can call for emergency mental health support from trained clinicians, who arrive separately from the officers. Ginn said Mobile Crisis has helped her understand the situations that clinicians will deal with once they’re paired with CMPD officers.

“An encounter with police can be scary for any of us,” she said. “That fear is intensified when we have an individual who is struggling.”

The clinicians will hopefully be able to build trust and “provide a sense of comfort and support” for people in crisis, Ginn said.