TIGARD, Ore. (KOIN) – More than half of all police calls in Tigard involve a mental or behavioral health crisis. That’s why local law enforcement officials are partnering with mental health professionals to provide better help.
The Washington County Mental Health Response Team has been serving people throughout the region for years. But in summer 2021, a new Mental Health Response Team was formed and will dedicate one clinician to the southern Washington County cities of Tigard, Tualatin, Sherwood and King City.
The goal is to respond to mental or behavioral health 911 calls in those cities with police officers and a masters-level clinician.
Crystal Fisher was the clinician assigned to the job.
“It’s good to have someone in the south cities, so Tigard, Tualatin, Sherwood and King City, just for quicker [response] and things like that,” she said.
Fisher is a LifeWorks NW Clinician and spends two weeks paired with a Tigard police officer, then rotates and spends the next two weeks with an officer in one of the other four cities. Whichever team she’s working on may be asked to respond to any crisis call throughout the south cities region when the need arises.
Fisher travels with officers in their patrol vehicles. She said they respond to a variety of calls, including those for people having anxiety attacks, someone hurting themselves, or calls from family members worried about a loved one. She said every day is different.
Fisher received training in radio communications and attended defensive tactics training. She also wears a ballistic vest at all times when she’s riding with officers.
The officers and clinician offer face-to-face crisis assessment and evaluation, consultation with families and other professions, referral for medication evaluation, psychiatric consultation, hospital diversion, flexible funding to help with emergency housing, transportation, and many other services.
Fisher said they don’t just help with immediate needs. They can connect people with ongoing services, health insurance and other forms of long-term support.
Officer Samual Northcote pairs up with Fisher for her weeks spent with the Tigard Police Department.
“It de-escalates a lot of people and gives us a lot of tools and resources that we didn’t have immediately at our access before. Washington County had the MHRT for over a decade. However, now that we have such an easier access of it, we can kind of utilize it more often without drawing from too many resources from outside the city,” he said.
Northcote said he believes the program is very important and said community members have been appreciative of the work the Mental Health Response Team is doing in the city. He said he wishes the Tigard Police Department could have a clinician on patrol full-time in the city.
The MHRT South Cities team is currently a one-year pilot program operated through an intergovernmental agreement between Washington County and the cities of Tigard, Tualatin, Sherwood and King City. The Tualatin Police Department secured a U.S. Department of Justice Community Oriented Policing Services grant to pay for one year of the clinician’s costs on cities’ behalf.
The current funding expires June 30, 2022, but the agencies hope to secure more funding to make the program permanent.