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| 3 min read | by Lonnie Huhman, lhuhman@thesuntimesnews.com | 

When the majority of the Washtenaw County voters who cast their ballots in 2017 in favor of the mental health/law enforcement millage, they did so under the assumption that law enforcement would be getting some help in responding to mental health emergencies and issues.

The following is part two in an update of what’s been happening with the millage, which is an eight-year millage expected to generate $5-$6 million per year.

Two more stories will follow; one being an update on other expanded services and another on how it’s all being paid for.

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The first story looked at the county’s implementation of the CARES program for mental health, substance, and treatment services.

So how are things going on the law enforcement side of things?

Here are a couple of updates.

At the Chelsea Police Department, the team there is going through some important training.

Chelsea Police Chief Ed Toth said the department is currently receiving training for managing mental health crisis. He said some officers have gone through the training already and he expects this to continue until the entire department completes it, including its dispatch.

“The training has been very good and helpful,” Toth said.

Toth said the emergency calls for mental health crisis have only increased over time, so the additional training is very helpful. He said it will help the department access emergency calls and scenes, and in turn, if needed, work with Community Mental Health and the outreach team to find the correct assistance.  

In an update from CMH this past week, the county-wide department said resources from the Washtenaw County Mental Health and Public Safety Preservation Millage first became available on January 1, 2019.

It highlighted some of the work accomplished in the first three quarters of 2019 including: a new supportive housing RFP, student-led anti-stigma campaigns, improved mental health outreach in under-served communities, millage impact data, and national law-enforcement assisted diversion training, and more.

The following is an excerpt from the CMH update and it pertains to some of the work being done on the law enforcement side:

Washtenaw County and Detroit are the first Michigan jurisdictions to be chosen to participate in the national Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) training institute in Seattle.

Five Washtenaw County diversion leaders–from the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office, Community Mental Health agency, and Public Defender’s Office–will attend the training from January 28-30 to learn how to implement the evidence-based model.

Just what is LEAD?

Lead is a pre-booking diversion program that channels offenders suspected of low-level misdemeanor crimes to case management and wraparound services instead of traditional booking and criminal prosecution. It’s a way for communities to respond to low-level offenses that stem from unaddressed public health and human service needs–addiction, untreated mental illness, homelessness, and extreme poverty–through a public health framework, reducing reliance on the formal criminal justice system. 

LEAD emerged in Seattle in 2011 after collaborations between a broad range of Seattle-area stakeholders–police, prosecutors, civil rights advocates, public defenders, political leaders, mental health and drug treatment providers, housing and service providers, and business and neighborhood leaders–to find new ways to solve problems for individuals who frequently cycled in and out of the criminal justice system.

LEAD goals are to: 

  • Reorient government’s response to safety, disorder, and health-related problems, 
  • Improve public safety and public health through research-based, health-oriented, and harm reduction interventions, 
  • Reduce the number of people entering the criminal justice system for low-level offenses related to drug use, mental health, sex work, and extreme poverty, 
  • Undo racial disparities at the front-end of the criminal justice system, 
  • Sustain funding for alternative interventions by capturing and reinvesting criminal justice savings, and 
  • Strengthen the relationship between law enforcement and the community. 

While LEAD programs across the country differ in design–the model has been launched in more than three-dozen jurisdictions to date–the model gives police officers an opportunity to divert low-level offenders to community-based, harm-reduction interventions for law violations driven by unmet behavioral health needs. Through trauma-informed intensive case-management, participants access a wide range of support services such as counseling, peer support, drug treatment, and housing. 

After several years of operation, an independent, non-randomized controlled outcome study found that Seattle’s LEAD participants were 58 percent less likely to be arrested after enrollment in the program, compared to a control group that went through “system as usual” criminal justice processing. Preliminary program data collected by case managers also indicated that LEAD improves the health and well-being of people struggling at the intersection of poverty and drug and mental health problems. 

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