Hawaii County currently has no program to assist law enforcement when dealing with those who suffer from a mental illness. However, efforts continue on state and local levels to give officers the resources they need when encountering these individuals.
“Police officers cannot replace mental health professionals and mental health professionals cannot replace police officers,” said Dr. Michael Champion, forensic chief for the Department of Health in the Adult Mental Health Division at the State of Hawaii Police Commissioners’ Conference.
“I think what we see in trends around the country are correctional facilities becoming de facto mental health facilities,” Champion said.
Mental health experts discussed two programs that allow law enforcement and health professionals to work together to help these individuals who deal with mental illness. The Sequential Intercept Model has been operating in Honolulu for a year and was recently rolled out in Maui County. The model is underway in Hawaii County. Champion said the goal is get the program statewide.
Champion said the Sequential Intercept Model provides a pathway for mental health professionals to understand how a person travels in the criminal justice system and how they can intervene.
Steve Balcom, Crisis Services Coordinator, said there are five intercept points in the model where programs and services are designed to help those with mental illness.
“What we are going to talk about is there are other options that hopefully not have these individuals penetrate the criminal justice system,” Balcom said.
The Mental Health Emergency Worker program is found in Intercept 1. The program is designed to divert individuals with mental illness from arrest in favor of a mental health evaluation when those individuals come into contact with law enforcement.
“It’s important for the mental health emergency workers to understand what their role is as well as what your role is,” he said of police officers.
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