SPECIAL REPORT | Police and Mental Health: Filling In The Gaps

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Back in February, 10/11 brought you the story of a homeless woman in Beatrice. She was out in the cold, so Beatrice Police took her to the People's City Mission for shelter. When she arrived, she was showing signs of mental illness. That led to a big communication breakdown between police and the homeless shelter over whose responsibility it was to get this woman the help she needed.

"When you're dealing with the public like we do and other agencies do, you have to just understand that you can only do so much," said Bruce Lang, Beatrice Police Chief.

One tool officers have to handle those calls is called an EPC, Emergency Protective Custody.

Lang explains it like this: "We have the same procedure basically that all law enforcement agencies in Nebraska have. And that is a state statute that allows us to take people into emergency protective custody for mental health issues if they meet the criteria. The criteria, in short form, is that they have to be mentally ill and they have to be dangerous either to themselves or to somebody else," he said.

But EPCs are not ideal because they often don't present solutions and they can be too restrictive.

"The answer nobody wants to hear is freedom. And that is, in this country you're free to do what you want to do, even if that's not necessarily in your best interest," said Lang.

So what else can police do? They can call TASC, which stands for Targeted Adult Service Coordination. TASC is a cooperation between Region Five Behavioral Health System, Houses of Hope, Lutheran Family Services and Blue Valley Mental Health.

"Our crisis calls, for instance, happen middle of the night, early evening, or very early morning when with rural departments you don't have many options. It's time consuming for that officer, even if they can get someone to go that means the officer has to transport them to Lincoln to Bryan LGH or they're doing an involuntary placement," said TASC director Arnold Remington. "Some of your gap is better connecting resources. 'This is your problem, it's not our problem,' I think that mentality has to go and it has to be a team approach," he said.

Ultimately, Lang and Remington both believe the trouble with filling in the gaps is in access to resources.

"Sometimes people will either use that or it's real that any amount of money is more than they can spend and so that's often a barrier," said Lang.

"Because we don't have the funding we have to use what we have. They're going to end up somewhere so it's better to take a proactive approach and work with that person," said Remington.

So sometimes, creativity is key.

"We've provided rides, we've escorted them, we've done all kinds of creative things to help people if they seek treatment," said Lang.

"You've got to be creative and access resources from a different perspective and different approach," said Remington.

As for the woman, she ended up in adult protective services. While there are resources and options and how to handle these types of situations, none are perfect. There's still no foolproof way to get mentally ill people the help they need.

One bill that was introduced in the legislature this year but never made it out of general file would have provided communities with more mental health training.

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