Multnomah County Has a Special Crisis Hotline for Cops. The Cops Rarely Call It

From The Portland Mercury, January 18, 2013

Here’s something you probably didn’t know—something that’s never really been mentioned all that much in any recent discussion of policing and mental health services and federal reform in Multnomah County.

Multnomah County’s Mental Health Call Center has a special hotline in place for Portland police officers who might need help on a call where someone’s having a mental health crisis. It’s akin to a Batphone, and it’s there so a cop’s call can leap ahead of the hundreds of other calls that come into the call center on a daily basis.

There’s just one problem: The cops don’t really use it. Here’s the data from Multnomah County:

Total calls to Call Center (988-4888)
1) 2010 – 43,612
2) 2011 – 54,759
3) 2012 – 67,375 (highest ever)

Police calls to Call Center on dedicated police line
1) 2010 – 27
2) 2011 – 27
3) 2012 – 21

I [Denis Theriault] asked for the data after talking with county officials about some of Police Chief Mike Reese‘s comments in this week’s cover story. The bureau is hungry for a new drop-off center where cops can take people in crisis, lobbying hard to wrap the facility into the city’s police reform settlement with the US Department of Justice.

And county officials bristled when Reese said the county’s Crisis Access Treatment Center—a 16-bed mental health facility made possible with and state funding—wasn’t working because “they have procedures against” taking people there. That’s not exactly true, county spokesman David Austin told me. Cops can take someone to the CATC provided they phone first. On the dedicated police line! But here’s some more distressing county data, looking at both the CATC and the county’s urgent walk-in clinic in Southeast:

Calls by police on dedicated line requesting Drop-Off to CATC
1) 6/2011-12/2011 – 0
2) 2012 – 0

Calls on police line for information/referral to UWIC (Urgent Walk-in Clinic)
1) 2010 – 0
2) 2011 – 0
3) 2012 – 0

So, yeah, something’s not working. The question, maybe, is what. The gold standard for the police bureau is a place, like a 24-hour drop-off center, where officers don’t have to spend any time on intake—something they used to have in Providence’s old Crisis Triage Center until it closed because of budget cuts. The CATC doesn’t operate that way. But it’s got to be better than the revolving door of the emergency room, which is where cops currently take people in crisis.

And if it’s not any better, given that no officer has ever called to start the CATC intake process, how would anyone actually know?