NC House bills set to provide professionals to help police with mental health calls

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(WGHP) — Laying the groundwork for de-escalation tactics used by law enforcement is what a portion of bills in the North Carolina House is aiming to do.

House Bills 786-788 deal with mental health crisis intervention. A section of it would give police departments funding and resources to have mental health professionals aid police during a mental crisis.

Chief Travis Stroud of the High Point Police Department said his team constantly responds to calls of someone experiencing a mental episode — or even situations that turn into stand-offs in which the suspect is suffering from mental illness.

“Our mental health calls for service are quite abundant. If I ran the numbers, you’d be shocked at how many we get on a daily basis, on a monthly basis and a year,” Stroud said.

In some of those calls, HPPD asks mental health professionals at Regional Health Associates for aid in de-escalation.

While Chief Stroud said it’s helpful, “We’re putting a Band-Aid on at the moment to be quite honest with you,” Stroud said.

He believes the triage of house bills 786-788 could better prepare his team to deal with a mental health crisis.

“We are police officers and so we are not mental health professionals by any stretch of the imagination. So, what we like to do is stabilize the situation as quickly as possible, make sure it’s safe and get them to the professionals,” Stroud said.

HB 788 involves the layout of how to focus efforts on mental health resiliency. HB 787 deals with revamping the involuntary commitment format. HB 786 would create funding for local departments to create crisis response teams.

“I think if these bills go through, it will allow us to put a program in place where we have mental health professionals that are either on contract here or respond with us into the street for certain calls to service. That will be invaluable,” Stroud said. “Those bills, if they do go through, lay the groundwork to get this program started for people like us.”

It’s invaluable because if passed, it could save lives during crisis interventions.

“You could be dealing with someone who may be frightened, that is not entirely understanding the situation they’re in,” said Ellen Cochran, with Mental Health Association of the Triad.

Cochran has worked as a mental health professional for decades.

She said the set of bills could change the framework for not only community policing but how mental health is looked at in society.

“It’s not that we think that they get a free pass or that they don’t have to absorb the consequences for what they’ve done, we just don’t want that to be all there is,” Cochran said.

For everyday people like Johnathan Hughes, these bills give them hope that mental health is an aspect that’s being seriously looked at under the umbrella of policing.

“It would help a whole lot. You don’t know what people probably be going through. Probably need somebody to talk to them and try to ease them down,” Hughes said.

The set of bills have passed their first readings in the House and will be taken up as part of the House budget process which has already started.

The legislation has garnered up quite a bit of support as about 100 mental health professionals in the area signed a petition backing it.

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