DIGGING DEEPER: MPD's approach to mental health - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

DIGGING DEEPER: MPD's approach to mental health

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Madison (WKOW) -- Two years ago, the Madison Police Department launched a program to better respond to mental health cases.

That first year, 2015, the department filed reports on 3,100 mental health related calls, an average of 60 cases per week.

Roberta Stellick is one of five mental health officers in the city and has a master's in counseling psychology.

On average, she handles four mental health cases each day and follows up with the families.

"We are getting a lot more calls from the community to be involved on the front end, which is great," she says.

Wendy Murkve is one of those callers.

"My brother suffers from paranoid schizophrenia.  We really weren't able to help him at all, he didn't want it," she says.

After Wendy's brother had an encounter with police, she started turning to officers for support.

"I could call the officers if something came up, if we needed something, if something changed in my brother's circumstances."

Madison Police Chief Mike Koval says, "The officers have a great deal of insights in terms of, not only professional communication, but mechanisms of mediation, arbitration, trying to draw on collaborations with folks like our Dane County friends from Journey Mental Health."

Sarah Henrickson is one of those partners from Journey Mental Health.

She now has an office in the police department's central district, where she works directly with officers on mental health cases.

"Because of how we are approaching cases together in collaboration on the front end, it's allowing us to have more successful intervention with mental health consumers, probably a reduction in the likelihood of people ending up in a crisis because we are being more proactive on the front end," says Sarah. "In many immeasurable ways it's been a huge improvement."

Because of the progress the team has made in responding to mental health crises, Dane County has decided to fund two more positions, just like Sarah's, to expand services. 

"We are now becoming, I think, a program that's being modeled in many states," says Chief Koval. "The fact that we can be so affirmative in our outreach now and we're getting more clinicians,  I think this is something that is going to become the new normal."

It's a service Wendy's family has been grateful for.

"The police department can really help. Just reach out and don't be afraid to do it."

Researchers at UW-Madison's sociology department are tracking what's working and what's not in the mental health officer program.

Those results aren't available yet.

Other police departments outside of Madison are also now starting to build mental health liaison programs with Journey Mental Health.

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