The Vancouver Police Department has been awarded nearly $315,000 that will allow mental health professionals to regularly accompany officers on calls, the department announced Tuesday.
The grant comes from the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs Mental Health Field Response program. Calling it a “groundbreaking opportunity,” the department said in a news release that it plans to partner with Clark County Crisis Services and SeaMar Community Services Northwest, and pay for three new, full-time mental-health responder positions to assist officers in the field.
“While law enforcement continues to serve as a first responder for many individuals experiencing a mental health crisis, we recognize that other service providers are often better suited to provide assistance,” Police Chief James McElvain said in the news release. “Arrest and incarceration should never be the default response for addressing mental health issues.”
Crisis responders will conduct timely evaluation and referral services, according to the news release. The goal is to avoid unnecessary jail and hospital trips.
“Enhancing field response capabilities should prevent many mental health crises from escalating. We hope to serve as a model for the rest of the state to follow,” Clark County District Court Judge Darvin J. Zimmerman said in the news release.
New staff will be hired and trained this fall, according to the news release.
One of the positions, hired by Crisis Services, will be a designated crisis responder, said Daniel Jass, program manager for Clark County Crisis Services. SeaMar will hire a mental health professional and a peer support responder.
Crisis Services already employs eight crisis responders who, in part, are on-call when officers request assistance. The three new positions will be dedicated primarily to helping the department with calls, Jass said. They will start working in the afternoons and evenings on weekdays, said Jass, who said he hopes to expand the program.
“This is the first time we’ve had a formal relationship with the department,” Jass said. “They can make sure the situation is safe but let us solve the behavioral issues.”
Vancouver is one of nine Washington communities selected for funding, according to the news release.