(Update: Adding video, comments by program manager)
BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) — The Deschutes County Mobile Crisis Assessment Team (MCAT) will be dispatched to some mental health crisis calls without Bend Police officers present, starting May 1.
MCAT, as its known, is a 24/7, 365-days-a-year team that provides crisis intervention services in the community. They also respond when called by various community partners, including law enforcement, to assess individuals in the community who are experiencing a mental health crisis.
There will be 17 dedicated primary responders, funded by the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office and city of Bend, using several state grants and national funds.
Program Manager Adam Goggins said he feels it’s the right time for the team’s next step.
“It’s been a public health crisis that we’ve responded to with a public safety response,” he said Thursday. “We want to change that to a public health crisis being responded to by a public health response.”
As for the type of calls, Goggins said, “Maybe they’re experiencing suicidal thoughts or homicidal thoughts, or having a substance abuse crisis, or any other crisis – but aren’t in immediate danger, they aren’t trying to harm themselves or harm someone else.”
If the call does involve someone who is an immediate threat to themselves or others, police will still respond.
“There’s certain red-line items that we have we just absolutely can’t go out on,” he said. “But for the most part, it’s going to be based on the clinical discretion of some of our staff members.
“So if we have an active safety risk or an active safety threat – so say someone has a weapon, or there’s an active situation that’s going on, law enforcement is still going to be responding to those.”
One thing that won’t change in times of personal crisis is a person being on the other end of the phone line – not an automated response.
“Any time someone calls 911, and that gets dispatched to us, they’re going to get someone there,” Goggins said. “They are going to have someone available to respond to.”
Bend police responded to nearly 1,900 mental health and suicide-related calls last year. When someone is picked up, they are often taken to the county Stabilization Center, where a specially equipped room allows them to decompress.
Police Chief Mike Krantz briefly discussed the new MCAT role with city councilors at Wednesday evening’s meeting when he presented results of the latest community survey, which found some improvements in community views of officers, but also that about one-third of respondents felt less safe in the community than a year ago.
“Much of the sentiment or perception of feeling unsafe really grew around issues of homeless, addiction and mental health concerns in community,” Krantz said, referring to situations in which “police typically have few tools to deal with — or shouldn’t be responding to.” City Manager Eric King said Fire Chief Jeff Blake had voiced similar concerns.