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Mobile crisis units debut

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

The first of four mobile crisis teams – new, multi-agency teams to help people with mental illnesses where appropriate, instead of sending them into the criminal justice system – goes live today.

Teams will consist of a law enforcement officer and a social worker with a master’s degree. Albuquerque police and the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office will assign two officers to the beat.

The county has one mobile crisis team that will start responding to calls for service today, and the county’s other team and two teams with Albuquerque police officers are finishing on-the-job training, BCSO Capt. Craig Sevier said.

The teams will take over calls for service involving people with mental illnesses when police determine there is no immediate threat of injury.

Such calls are common. Albuquerque police and the BCSO responded to more than 13,000 priority-one and -two calls involving people with a mental illness from Sept. 1, 2016, through Sept. 30, 2017, according to a report that Peter Winograd, a policy analyst, prepared for the county’s behavioral health project coordinator.

“Once the scenes are made safe, the clinician can make an assessment and (the team) can make a determination if diversion from the criminal justice system … is a possible solution for that person’s crisis,” Sevier said.

At the launch of the program, the teams are going to be in unmarked vehicles and wearing what police call a soft uniform, which means they will be in plainclothes but identifiable as law enforcement.

Similar programs have found success at police agencies across the country, said Katrina Hotrum, the county’s behavioral health director.

Multiple agencies throughout the county have been working for years at improving interactions between law enforcement and mentally ill people. Adding more training for officers to achieve better outcomes during those interactions is a significant aspect of an ongoing police reform effort by Albuquerque police.

The pilot project will be funded with a behavioral health tax that went into effect in July 2015.

Hotrum said the Institute for Social Research at the University of New Mexico will analyze data to see what effects the mobile teams have in the city.

Officers assigned to the teams received extensive crisis intervention training.

The teams will be multi-jurisdictional and can respond anywhere throughout the county.

The city and county made a joint announcement of the pilot project last May.

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