Lakewood mental health outreach claims early successes

A Lakewood program aimed at reducing mentally ill individuals’ repeated run-ins with police by connecting them with services has seen success in the short time since it was established, according to preliminary data presented Monday to the City Council.

Lakewood police have helped 229 people with mental illnesses since the program started 10 months ago. That includes connecting 103 people to a provider, or working with a person’s existing mental health provider.

Lakewood has a special need for this service because of Western State Hospital and other agencies located in the city, Lakewood Police Chief Mike Zaro said.

While touting the program’s successes so far, Zaro also acknowledged the difficulty in measuring its overall value.

Through the program, Lakewood police work with a mental health professional from Greater Lakes Mental Healthcare. The goal is to get people help and reduce their contact with police officers.

“Our biggest issue has been the repeat customer,” Zaro said.

The program allows officers to get resources to people who need them, build partnerships with mental health agencies and alleviate the responsibility and workload of patrol officers responding to calls involving people with mental illness, Zaro said.

Carolyn Cyr is the mental health professional working with Lakewood police. She gave an example of a woman who received emergency services 52 times from January 2014 to February 2015. That amounted to $5,700 for non-emergency calls, Cyr said.

After talking with the woman’s counselor and getting her additional help, the woman has called 911 three times in 10 months, Cyr said. Those calls were unrelated to mental health needs.

“Those are some of the cost-saving type of things that we’re doing,” Cyr said.

Before the program, Lakewood police were limited in how they could help people with urgent mental health needs. Options included taking them to jail or the emergency room where they likely didn’t receive followup care.

Police are still taking people to jail or the hospital if they don’t have another option, but Cyr and Lakewood Officer Ralph Rocco can follow up when their shift begins.

Cyr is also training Lakewood officers.

The Lakewood program is largely funded by federal grants totaling $84,000. The city also received money from its Human Services fund and the Nisqually Tribe.

The U.S. Department of Justice grant runs through 2016. The city’s hasn’t identified how to fund the program after that, but Zaro hopes money is available to continue it.

Brynn Grimley: 253-597-8467, @bgrimley

By the numbers

People reached through Lakewood’s Behavioral Health Contact Team

103 people received mental health service referrals or coordination with existing mental health provider

15 people hospitalized

8 people incarcerated

17 people accepted housing referrals

30 people declined services

40 people unable to locate after initial police contact