Paul's Note - April 30th, 2021

The Tucson Police Department sent us some "frequently asked questions.” It included two that deal with mental health crises. This is particularly acute given the death-in-custody of Carlos Ingram-Lopez last year. Below is what they sent us, with some edits for style. 

How are Tucson Police officers trained to deal with individuals in mental health crises?    

All TPD sworn personnel, as well as appropriate professional staff, receive 8 hours of Mental Health First Aid training.  In addition, the department will soon reach the milestone of a having a significant majority of its patrol officers complete the 40-hour Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) course.    

 While crisis intervention training helps patrol officers support people they encounter in a mental health crisis, TPD’s Mental Health Services Team (MHST) consists of specially trained officers and supervisors dedicated to  preventing crises through early identification and engagement.  Among other functions, this takes the form of investigation-led outreach and tailored transport for those in need.    

The MHST investigation function focuses on individuals who need to be connected or re-connected to the behavioral health system before their situation escalates into a crisis or need for criminal justice involvement.  If a mental health need is identified and/or the person has disengaged from services, MHST detectives look for potential resources to collaborate with service providers, family members, co-workers, prior case managers, etc.    

MHST’s support/transport function focuses on individuals in the civil commitment system, specifically non-emergency applications for court ordered evaluation and revocation of outpatient status.  All transport orders issued by the court, which can be harrowing for the person in crisis, are assigned to MHST because of their expertise and ability in treating these individuals with sensitivity and to act as a centralized point of accountability.  

Other cities, like Eugene, Oregon, have received positive attention for their use of community-based mobile crisis teams to respond to various incidents where individuals are in mental health crisis and a police response may not be necessary.  Does Tucson have anything like this?  

Tucson and Pima County are serviced by 12 Crisis Mobile Teams (CMTs) funded by Arizona Complete Health and provided by Community Bridges, Inc.  These teams are dispatched by a 24/7 crisis center that answers calls that come in through the local crisis line (520-622-6000).  These services are most often provided without involvement from the City’s 911 dispatch center or police department.    

Whenever possible, MHST collaborates with CMT personnel. In addition, patrol officers often work with the CMTs to assess and stabilize persons in crisis as well as to connect them with services and perform  follow-up welfare checks.  There are times when TPD personnel must respond to calls with CMTs based on high risk circumstances such as the likelihood of violence or weapons at the response location.  

Crisis Mobile Teams are typically available most times during the day and evening, but currently not on a 24 hours a day basis. Efforts to show the need for 24/7 services are being made.  When police call for assistance, CMTs do their best to respond to a scene within 30 minutes, but this is not always possible given their current staffing levels. 

BICAS (Bicycle Inter-Community Art and Salvage) is a non-profit dedicated to encouraging bicycle use in our community. Doing everything from loaning tools to people who want to fix their bikes, teaching people the basics of bicycle repair and maintenance to commissioning bicycle related public art (including bike racks). They have had a couple of major challenges over the last 18 months. They had to move out of their long-time location at Sixth Street and the railroad tracks because of the Downtown Links project, and COVID meant they couldn’t keep their new Seventh Avenue location open to the public. 

The good news is that starting this week, BICAS will begin a phased reopening, welcoming a limited number of customers into our warehouse to allow for adequate social distancing and spacing. They hope to start their community tools, work trade, and community service programs. For more information on their programs, classes and small events, visit their website at bicas.org. 

Each week when I send my weekly update, I include some information on Tucson Food Share. Tucson Food Share does regular food distribution but doesn’t ask for any personal information about income or status. They do this work entirely on personal donations and volunteer labor. 

I got a notice from them this week that they are changing their pickup location to 2500 N Stone and their times will now be Mondays and Thursdays from 6 – 8 pm and Saturdays from 8 – 10 pm. I have updated my information page on the program. 

If you’d like more information of if you’d like to donate, visit TucsonFoodShare.org