Springfield Police in early stages of adding Mental Health Mobile Response Team

Published: Jun. 29, 2022 at 5:20 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - Whether the topic is the increase in gun violence or the need to rehabilitate criminals locked away in jails, making more mental health treatment available is often mentioned as an essential ingredient in the proposed solutions.

“Behavioral health calls have become an increasing issue for law enforcement nationwide,” said Holli Triboulet, a Burrell Behavioral Health Project Director and former officer with the Branson Police Department.

For years experts have been saying that incarceration is not always the best option for people who could use mental counseling and guidance instead.

And that’s one reason why the Springfield Police Department, with the help of several other agencies (Burrell Behavioral Health, Springfield-Greene Co. Health Dept., CoxHealth, Mercy, Springfield Fire Department, Community Partnership of the Ozarks, and 9-1-1 Emergency Communications), has established a Mental Health Mobile Response Team where officers and mental health professionals work together to evaluate and assist non-violent subjects.

The program started its second stage, where the mental health personnel ride along with police officers and sometimes offer their expertise depending on the circumstances. But the eventual goal is to have the mental health team respond independently after being requested by an officer. Once the officer has determined that the location is safe and the subject is non-violent, the mental health team would be called in to provide counseling and treatment options.

“As a former law enforcement officer, this project is something I would have loved to have had access to when I was an officer,” Triboulet said.

“It could be a client who they already know that they need to help get their medication,” said Springfield Police Chief Paul Williams. “It could be someone who needs to be directed to some long-term care, or it could be someone who’s a danger to themselves or others that we take into custody for a 96-hour evaluation in a mental facility. So it runs the gamut.”

Williams pointed out that one of the main goals is to keep the mental health teams safe. However, they will not be armed.

“Absolutely not,” he said. “Anything requiring safety or an armed individual will require a police officer.”

“When officers are called, it’s not always a situation where it’s a criminal incident,” Triboulet added. “They’re also called to check on the well-being of individuals, and many times it has no criminal component to it at all. Officers are typically very good at de-escalation but what they lack is the time to sit there and actually have an in-depth conversation with that person in crisis.”

And considering the police department is already working with an understaffed workforce, having someone else to take their place in a non-violent situation can be helpful.

“Even if our officers respond and they’re at the scene for minutes instead of hours, it frees them up to go do other things,” Williams explained. “It allows us to do what our primary responsibility is, which is fighting crime and keeping people safe.”

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