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Grand Rapids could expand partnership between mental health professionals, GRPD

The city is considering the idea of having an expanded co-response model in place that would send a mental health professional to a call along with a police officer.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich — The City of Grand Rapids has plans to expand partnerships between mental health professionals and its police and fire departments, the city said Monday. The expansion would be part of the city’s ongoing efforts to improve public safety outcomes. 

City Manager Mark Washington announced Monday the city’s intent to integrate police, fire and mental health professionals to more proactively and effectively aide individuals in the community.

“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 re-evaluate our strategies, especially around policing, partnerships like this are another important step in our ongoing efforts.”

Washington, along with Police Chief Eric Payne and Fire Chief John Lehman, hopes to leverage a combination of non-sworn behavioral and mental health professionals within the organization, along with behavioral and mental health professionals from other governments, authorities and nonprofit organizations.

RELATED: Police, community leaders call for end to gun violence in Grand Rapids

Washington said he plans to pilot the expanded partnership by focusing on responses to those experiencing homelessness. He hopes that combining mental health professionals with police and fire professionals will more effectively connect individuals to services and support that can lead to transitional 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,” Washington said.

Washington and Payne are considering the idea of having an expanded co-response model in place that would send a mental health professional to a call along with a police officer.

According to the City of Grand Rapids, these calls might include:

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

Details on the expansion are currently limited, but the city hopes to present more formal plans with Payne’s update on GRPD’s strategic plan, which is set to take place Aug. 11 during the City Commission’s Committee meeting.

Although the partnership with the mental health organization has not been announced, those who work in the field are excited about the venture. 

"It could cut down on arrests, jail time, and the use of force by law enforcement," said Christy Buck, executive director for Be Nice, part of the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan, "because many times when a police officer comes onto a scene, that can agitate someone in general. If they're under the influence of drugs and alcohol, they are not thinking clearly at that point either."

Buck said while police officers are trained in some areas of this kind of response, mental health workers are specifically trained to deescalate a situation. She said she is glad to see Grand Rapids moving forward with this type of response. Having the workers there on first contact, Buck said, will make a big difference. 

"Can you imagine that somebody who maybe has never been actually offered the correct help and treatment at that point, at that first time, where they might be encountering a mental health crisis?" said Buck, "It's pretty amazing to be able to offer them services at that time."

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