September 22, 2020

At the Sept 8 budget meeting, Richland Police Chief John Bruce told the Richland City Council that he would like to add three more officers to his department.  The city currently budgets for 65.

But Mayor Ryan Lukson had another question — “Why wouldn’t you add more mental health training?” 

The concern stemmed from another fact Bruce laid out. Eighty percent of calls to Richland police involve a mental health aspect, the chief said.

Bruce told the council that the department already provides de-escalation and mental health training for its officers. 

What the department needs, he said, are more bodies. Having more officers per shift means more time to respond to an incident, knowing backup is close by.

“Officers need time to just slow down,” Bruce said. “Officers who rush in may have a deadly force incident. Wait for your back up. Survey the scene. Re-evaluate the decision.”

Bruce also said that he would like officers to be able to allocate 40 percent of their time in the community visiting businesses, schools and Parent Teacher Associations.

The department has mental health crisis workers who ride along with officers, Bruce said. Lourdes Outpatient Services has a grant for more than $1 million that provides these professionals to Tri-Cities police departments.

The Observer talked to Richland Police Capt. Chris Lee and Director of Lourdes’ Outpatient Services Cameron Fordmeir, who administers the grant.

Lee said each jurisdiction has a mobile outreach team that includes a mental outreach professional called a “designated crisis responder.” That person decides whether someone poses enough of danger to themselves or others that they require 72-hour detention for drug abuse or psychiatric evaluation.

The team may also include a mental outreach counselor who provides contacts for follow-up support services or counseling, and peer specialists who work behind the scenes to make sure the paperwork doesn’t fall between the cracks.

“Sometimes the Richland police drive their team member to other jurisdictions which need them,” Lee said. 

Fordmeir added that the program currently has six designated crisis responders, two mental outreach counselors and three peer specialists to cover all of Benton and Franklin counties.

“Since the program began in 2018, the teams have had 4,163 contacts and 87 psychiatric hospitalizations,” Fordmeir said.

The current grant expires June 2021. Fordmeir plans to reapply for the grant as well as look for funding from the cities and other sources so that the program can continue.

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