Crisis Solution Center another option for offenders with mental-health issues
By TRACEY COMPTON
Renton Reporter Staff writer
September 19, 2012 · Updated 6:18 PM
On Sept. 4 Renton resident Joanna Greer made the ill-conceived decision to rob a local bank, seeking escape and treatment in jail for her mental illness.
She entered the Key Bank in the Renton Highlands and – unarmed – robbed a teller of almost $1,500.
She told police she couldn’t cope with her illness anymore and preferred to be in jail where “you did not have to do anything there,” according to court documents.
Although Greer will now get some treatment for her illness through the justice system, she has been charged with first-degree robbery.
Had she committed a misdemeanor crime, her options might have led her to a new treatment facility recently opened in Seattle. The Crisis Solution Center was created as a therapeutic alternative for people experiencing a behavioral crisis to go for help, instead of jail or an emergency room.
“The bank robber, it was unfortunate, but it’s deemed a violent crime even though it wasn’t violent,” said Detective Chris Edwards of the Renton Police Department. “And so it has to be treated that way; it has to be investigated that way.”
Greer had no previous convictions prior to this incident, but did have previous contact with police concerning her mental health.
In August Edwards completed crisis-intervention training that helps him identify people eligible for the Crisis Solution Center and its services.
Edwards is a hostage negotiator and said other detectives and patrol officers within the Renton department have taken the training or plan to by the end of the year.
Although police officers receive this type of training in the police academy, Edwards said there is a big push now for updated and enhanced training.
“I went through 17 years go and they really didn’t have this type of crisis intervention training,” he said. “But, now everything is keying toward it.”
A class on the Crisis Solutions Center was part of Edwards’ 40-hour training put on by the Criminal Justice Training Commission.
The center is operated by the Downtown Emergency Service Center or DESC and staff is trying to inform as many law enforcement officials as possible of the services.
“Since DESC’s Crisis Solutions Center opened on Aug. 6, we’ve seen a steady ramp-up in referrals, and so far things are going well,” said Nicole Macri, DESC administrator. “However, almost all referrals have been from area hospital emergency departments. We continue to reach out to police departments around the county about this new resource.”
Macri believes the slow participation from police departments has to do more with procedural issues involved in incorporating these sort of diversion referrals. However, she is confident the trend won’t last.
“King County Sheriffs and Seattle Police Department are currently rolling out new procedures to their officers that we hope will provide a good model for other departments around the county,” Macri said. “We anticipate law enforcement referrals to pick up in the coming weeks.”
There are three components to the Crisis Solutions Center: a Mobile Crisis Team, a Crisis Diversion Facility and Crisis Diversion Interim Services.
So far the Mobile Crisis Team has had four calls or contacts in Renton. None of those contacts resulted in transports to the center; instead the person went to area shelters. People who police encounter experiencing a behavioral crisis must choose to go to the center on a voluntary basis.
Often police find people who’ve committed petty or misdemeanor crimes are also suffering from some type of mental distress.
In the training Edwards completed, he received a list of the types of offenses eligible for diverting people to the center instead of going to jail. The list includes criminal trespass, malicious mischief, unlawful bus conduct, disorderly conduct and possession of marijuana among other offenses.
The Crisis Diversion Facility is a 16-bed unit and a step-down program offers 23 beds for clients who are homeless or unable to return to their previous living situation.
So far the center has operated at a 25 to 80 percent, capacity depending on the day, according to Macri.
The goal of the center is to stabilize a person’s crisis with a team of mental health and chemical dependency professionals by connecting them to long-term resources to fit their needs.
Edwards sees value in the center and agrees hospitals and jails have become revolving doors for people in crisis.
“This is to prevent that and this is what we want,” he said. “We don’t want to keep booking people into jail. No. 1, it’s costly, but No. 2 it screws a person up unfortunately financially and mentally when they’re in jail.”Contact Renton Reporter Staff writer Tracey Compton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 425-255-3484, ext. 5052.