ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Albuquerque police deal with a barrage of mental health-related calls. But for the first time, they’re seeing those numbers decline, and they say it has a lot to do with getting people the help they need instead of throwing them in jail.
When calls come into 911, sometimes dispatchers send officers to assist people struggling with behavioral health. Like the woman who threw a rock at an officer’s head, or the man who pulled out a hatchet on a restaurant’s customers.
“Behavioral health calls are very different. You’re kind of walking into the unknown,” said Lt. Matt Dietzel. APD says it’s working to bring the number of these types of calls down.
“What is it that we can do to get you on the right track?” Lt. Matt Dietzel says that’s the question they ask people every day. He’s with APD’s Crisis Intervention Unit, which partners with medical professionals to respond to calls.
“The officer’s in one, driving around, going to the calls, the clinician’s in the passenger seat,” said Lt. Dietzel. They’re called Mobile Crisis Teams, and APD has four of them.
“The clinician being there, right then and there, is a huge asset for that kind of emergency, let’s fix this now type of situation,” he said. They look at a number of factors: Is the person taking their medication? Are they under the influence, homeless or having financial problems?
“You have to keep all these things in mind as you’re going through this call,” and Dietzel says they’re getting better at that. APD says last year was the first year since 2010 that saw behavioral health calls drop. The department attributes that to improved training, medical care, and having specialized units out in the field.
“We’re not just taking people to jail because we don’t have any other options. We’re taking them to the hospital and they’re getting follow-up treatment through their provider,” he said.
Last year, 72% of all the behavioral health calls led to people being taken to emergency services. Only 2% were arrested. APD says between 10% to 15% of all calls involve people with behavioral health issues.