GREAT FALLS — When law enforcement responds to a scene, they’re often faced with many difficult decisions.
One of those is how to handle a person dealing with a mental health crisis.
“Before this, we could either take somebody to the hospital or take somebody to the jail,” said GFPD Captain of Patrol Services John Schaffer.
But through community partnerships, he says law enforcement officers now have another option.
The crisis response team, or CRT, believes just because someone is in crisis doesn’t necessarily make them a criminal.
“They might just need a little help getting back to their normal state,” said Schaffer.
A combined effort between law enforcement agencies and mental health professionals is tackling these kinds of situations.
CRT members provide a clinical perspective during certain mental health calls on scene or at clinic locations.
Behavioral Health Director at Alluvion Health Dusti Zimmer says in the year and a half that their clinic has been involved with CRT, they’ve responded to hundreds of calls.
From chemical dependency to calls involving service members and PTSD, Zimmer says each situation's outcome relies on finding the best way to serve those in crisis with compassion.
“The big thing is really recognizing the fact that they really have served our country,” she said. “Unfortunately sometimes they pay a price for that and come back with symptoms that they didn’t have before.”
Zimmer adds it’s just as critical that those in need of CRT intervention get the help they need even after the initial call.
Schaffer says the CRT has already had a major impact in the past year when it comes to improving outcomes of crisis calls.
"91% of those calls have been diverted away from the jail and 68% have been diverted away from the ER," he said.
Now, agencies are exploring new grants and programs to take their efforts one step further.
“The more resources we can put towards mental health in our community the better the outcomes are gonna be,” said Schaffer.
One agency looking at making changes is the Cascade County Sheriff’s Office. Sheriff Jesse Slaughter hopes to one day have more mental health resources at the jail, including data tracking and staffing.
“It’s gonna take a little bit of time to get that stuff done, but are we working hard on it t try and push it forward,” he said.
Slaughter plans to continue working with new resources to grow the CRT in Cascade County.
"We need to partner with our medical partners, our other law enforcement partners in our community to be successful at this,” said Slaughter. “We absolutely cannot do this alone.”
Reporting by Keeley Van Middendorp for MTN News