City sees alarming rise in mental health calls - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

City sees alarming rise in mental health calls

February 15th, 2022 development
City sees alarming rise in mental health calls

By Ken Sain, Staff Writer

Chandler Police say the number of mental health-related calls for service has doubled since 2015 to about 2,500 a year.

“It’s unbelievable,” said Councilmember Matt Orlando. “It’s scary, I mean it’s what’s happening, it’s our society today. We are growing in … teen suicides, growing in drug addictions, and alcohol addiction and just general mental health issues.”

Police are not the only ones who respond to mental health calls. Orlando said the Fire Department handles a couple of thousand as well.

Councilmembers were briefed on how the city responds to behavioral health issues during a work session on Jan. 27.

“I knew Chandler was doing a lot of things to address mental health, but man there were a lot of services that are coming to bear from all different parts of the city,” said Vice Mayor Terry Roe. “I was super impressed.”

At the end of the presentation staff made some recommendations on how to handle the increase. They are:

• Create a behavioral health unit within the police department

• Add a behavioral health navigator, someone who helps patients get through a complicated health care system

• Embed crisis counselors in the 9-1-1 communications center

• Identify training resources for city employees on signs of suicides

• Partner with Chandler Unified School District and Compass Church to offer a free mental health conference focused on kids

• Explore other community partnerships

A lot of that will cost money the city doesn’t currently spend. Can the city afford it?

“We’re going to have to,” Orlando said. “We’re going to have to find the money. I just talked to the city manager tonight, we’ve got some options on the table that we’re discussing.

“It’s a question we keep asking, ‘Can we afford this?’ Well, can we afford not to do it? You saw that line. That trend line was going like this, at a 45-degree angle. Year over year it’s getting higher and higher and higher. We have to do something.”

There is a price being paid now because of the increase in calls, city officials said.

They’ve noticed more calls for service, residents worrying about the safety of public facilities such as parks and libraries, challenges cleaning and maintaining public facilities that are being taken over by people experiencing homelessness, more requests for blight removal and environmental cleanup near homeless camps and more cases in the courts.

Chandler Fire has a two-person response team that responds to calls and requires three full-time and eight part-time employees. They provide masters-level mental health professionals to people in need.

The average time for those units to respond to a call is 13 minutes and 33 seconds.

The increase in cases is also impacting the courts.

Chandler Municipal Court has three treatment courts. Chandler, along with other East Valley cities are part of the Veterans’ Court. It also offers a mental health court. It recently started a new support court.

In all three cases, the goal is to find out what issues are in play, address them and help people get the care they need instead of putting them into the criminal justice system.

The support court is relatively new, having started in December.

Chandler Police does have a Crisis Intervention Team now. Those officers get 40 hours of specialized training that focuses on reducing the risk of serious injury or death between officers and people with mental health issues during an emergency. The program has been taught in the Valley since 2004 and was expanded in 2014.

CIT officers get eight hours of continuing education each year. And all Chandler officers get CIT-related training annually.

Orlando said it is important for the public to know they will never send just mental health teams to an emergency situation and that there will always be trained officers present.

“We’ll always send out a police officer, definitely if there is going to be violence, or an issue like that, so let’s put that to rest,” he said.

Roe said he’s not surprised by the huge increase in cases, pointing out the fact that the pandemic for the past two years has stressed the mental health of many people.

He said he thought the recommendations were good ideas.

“We know other cities are doing like programs already, with success,” said Roe, who is a former Mesa police officer. “We want mental health folks to be treated with dignity, for their benefit and the benefit of the community.”