Crime & Courts

CMPD’s mental health partnership helped hundreds in its first months, leaders say

About 250 people interacted with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department’s new mental health unit in its first 11 weeks, according to the department.

The unit, which pairs CMPD officers with mental health clinicians to try to keep people safe and out of jail, launched at the end of April. The city has agreed to pay $3.5 million for the program over the next five years.

About two-thirds of the approximately 250 people who encountered the Community Policing Crisis Response Team avoided going to jail or a hospital, police said. Instead, clinicians connected them with mental health or substance abuse resources and followed up to make sure they were using them.

Only two of the 250 people went to jail, while about a quarter were hospitalized, police said.

The mental heath clinicians don’t enter a scene until it’s safe, police have said — so if someone has a gun or a knife, they’ll keep their distance and help out once police have control of the weapon.

In one case, CMPD Maj. Nelson Bowling said, a woman was reported walking down a Charlotte road with a gun. She called 911 herself and said someone had broken into her house.

Police went to the house and found a loaded .22 handgun and bullet holes in the house, where the woman believed people had been breaking in for two years, Bowling said. Police are not releasing the names of people who’ve worked with the crisis response team.

“She had cut the power off to her house,” he said. “Inside the home, the doors were actually booby trapped with weights above doors ... a person in crisis.”

The incident could have led to an arrest, Bowling said, but instead, crisis response clinicians and CMPD officers worked together, and the woman was involuntarily committed to the hospital.

In another case, a man posted on Facebook that he was having “homicidal thoughts,” Bowling said. He turned out to be a veteran dealing with PTSD, and crisis response clinicians put him in touch with a veteran advocate. Now, Bowling said, the man is calling for help directly when he needs it, instead of posting on Facebook.

The clinicians make a plan for care with each person they meet, CriSyS Mecklenburg County Mobile Crisis Services President Keshia Ginn said. They might help the person figure out what support is already available and how to develop coping skills, she said, along with making sure the person is taking medication and going to scheduled appointments.

CriSys refers people to other mental health organizations in the area for long-term care, Ginn said.

Bowling and Ginn said some people have been specifically requesting help from the crisis response team when they call 911. The team fills in a gap in the traditional options — police, fire or Medic — available when someone calls 911, Bowling said.

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The clinicians can also keep in contact with vulnerable people to help them proactively, Ginn said.

“There might not be an acute crisis, but because that individual ... felt comfortable with that team, they’re reaching out to say ‘I’m struggling, I’m having a hard day,’” Ginn said. “And so it allows the team to really kind of intervene or know where that person is, before there’s another acute crisis.”

Six clinicians are part of the team, Bowling said in April. They coordinate with the 700 CMPD officers who’ve been through Crisis Intervention Training, which focuses on mental health and de-escalation.

Clinicians also responded to at least two deadly shootings in public places in the past few months, at UNC Charlotte and Steak ‘n Shake. In those cases, Ginn said, they provided support and counseling to people who’d witnessed the violence or were otherwise traumatized by it.

Jane Wester is a Charlotte native and has been covering criminal justice and public safety for The Charlotte Observer since May 2017.