Grand Rapids expands mental health partnerships

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The goal of the partnerships is to integrate police, fire and mental health professionals to connect individuals more effectively with the services and support that can lead to transitional and/or permanent supportive housing. Courtesy city of Grand Rapids

The Grand Rapids Police Department is exploring options to improve mental health response.

Grand Rapids City Manager Mark Washington announced his intent to expand mental health partnerships as part of the city’s ongoing efforts to improve public safety outcomes.

Washington, Police Chief Eric Payne and Fire Chief John Lehman intend to leverage a combination of nonsworn behavioral and mental health professionals within the organization and partnerships with behavioral and mental health professionals from other governments, authorities and nonprofit organizations.

“We all understand that the traditional model of response — one that relies on police, fire and EMS — is not the most effective way to serve people suffering from a mental health crisis,” Washington said. “As we continue to reevaluate our strategies, especially around policing, partnerships like this are another important step in our ongoing efforts.”

Washington said he hopes to pilot the expanded partnerships by focusing on responses to those experiencing homelessness, building on the early success of the city’s Homeless Outreach Team.

The goal is to integrate police, fire and mental health professionals to connect individuals more effectively with the services and support that can lead to transitional and/or permanent supportive housing.

“I think we all acknowledge the need to divert these responses away from emergency departments, inpatient facilities and jails and into timely mental health and substance use treatment,” he said.

While details of the partnerships still are in development, the city hopes to announce more formal plans with Payne’s update on the police department’s strategic plan Aug. 11 during the city commission’s committee of the whole meeting.

Instead of the police department sending only a police officer to certain calls, Payne will consider whether an expanded co-response model with a mental health or behavioral health professional could work. These calls might include:

  • Disorderly intoxication
  • Drug overdose
  • Intoxicated person
  • Mental health crisis
  • Suicide crisis
  • Mental health transport
  • Disorderly youth/juvenile
  • Panhandling
  • Neighborhood dispute

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