By Priscilla Casper
The Tucson Police Department has become a national leader in dealing with the mental health crisis.
The United States Department of Justice, Council of State Governments Justice Center and Police Foundation named TPD as a “National Law Enforcement-Mental Health Learning Site.”
The department is one of four new agencies selected to be a learning site for other police and sheriff’s departments around the country. These learning sites are designed to improve positive outcomes for law enforcement and people struggling with mental illness.
Tucson Police Sgt. Jason Winsky says two out of five calls to the department are associated with a mental health crisis or substance abuse disorder.
In the past year the department has trained nearly all its officers to handle a mental health crisis and as a result, the department says its use of force and officer-involved shootings are down exponentially over the past 15 months.
“We are adding classes to our training for the opioid epidemic to teach our officers and teach our deputies, ‘Hey this is what it looks like when you are encountering someone, these issues and this is a place you can take them,’” said Sgt. Winsky, who supervises TPD’s Mental Health Support Team.
Officers are trained to realize a person is in a mental health crisis and instead of putting them in jail, officers are trained to get them treatment.
“People who do have a serious mental illness who are in jail end up staying two to three times are long,” said Margie Balfour, who manages the Crisis Response Center. “They cost about twice as much as taxpayers. They are three more times likely to be raped in prison, they are likely to be put in solitary confinement, which makes them worse.”
With the national recognition, agencies from all over the country can use federal money to ride along with TPD’s mental health team and learn its training.
“So if we can help train them and help improve their communities, we are excited to do that,” said Sgt. Winsky.