With resources limited for the mentally ill, police often are the first to get called when someone is having a psychiatric meltdown. The Seattle Police Department dedicated two officers to such cases, hoping to prevent crises before they turn tragic, reports the seattle Post-Intelligencer. Part cop, part social worker, Scott Enright and Suzie Parton look for solutions for people who commit crimes because they are undiagnosed, off their meds, or lacking access to services. They coordinate with social workers, probation officers, and mental health professionals, hoping to get unstable people off the streets and into treatment, or jail. “Getting them the treatment and social services they need meets a public safety need, which is what we’re about,” Enright said.
They focus on misdemeanors, hoping to intervene before mental problems lead to more serious crimes. Many offenders have more serious records and a history of drug or alcohol abuse. The person may be a constant source of 911 calls. Sometimes, officers check noncriminal matters that might otherwise slip under the radar, such as neighbor disputes that exhibit odd behavior. “A large part of our work is threat assessment,” said Sgt. L.G. Eddy, unit chief. “Sometimes we find when they go out and chat that there is way more to it than what got reported that day.” By accompanying officers, mental health workers could see how someone is behaving in the moment and not after he or she is in a controlled environment. Most cases are referred to the Mental Health Court, which was the fourth in the nation when it was established in 1999 to treat the underlying disorders behind some criminal behavior.