Supreme Court justice looks at alternate responses to mental health crises

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Economic Digest on 5/20/2022 by Doug Ross, Senior Reporter, (Munster) Times of Northwest Indiana

ALPARAISO — Indiana Supreme Court Justice Christopher Goff spoke with Porter County police officers about the challenges they face on the job.

One thing stood out: dealing with individuals’ mental health issues.

Goff and others across the state are hoping to address that issue. Porter County is one of four sites that will lead in the state’s effort to develop alternative responses to mental health crises, he said at the annual Porter County Sheriff’s Office Police Memorial ceremony.

“Porter County is really the tip of the spear,” he said.

“In most communities in the United States, when someone presents with a crisis the only response that the community has is law enforcement,” he said. “And the only place to put someone who might hurt themselves or others is unfortunately, most times, the county jail.”

Goff’s hope is to develop a different response than law enforcement.

“In every community, we hope to have one, someone to call, and that someone will be 988.” Beginning in July, calling 988 will lead to a call center. “Five, 10 years from now, you will have someone to call besides a law enforcement officer to respond to that.”

“In a community like Porter County, often you might have a multidisciplinary response team,” Goff said.

Valparaiso Police Department, for example, has a social worker on staff to help in situations like that.

A new approach to mental health crises

Indiana Supreme Court Justice Christopher Goff wants to remove mental health crises from the issues law enforcement officers have to deal with.
Doug Ross, The Times

The third need is someone for a person in this situation to go. “And that somewhere to go is called a lot of different things,” Goff said. “I’ve heard it called a no-wrong-entry center, I’ve heard it called a certified community behavioral health center, but the idea is there would be someplace besides the county jail to take someone in crisis so they could be stabilized and then, when they’re out of that crisis, have a team of folks who could actually make a logical decision about what needs to happen to that individual and what’s best for the community.”

The Indiana General Assembly has created a trust fund with federal dollars to support the 988 infrastructure. The Legislature also has supported creation of mobile response teams.

But what will those community responses and those teams look like? How would they work? “How do we truly discern who is a public safety risk and who could do successfully with a different outcome?” Goff asked.

Legislation is being drafted to help communities figure out how to respond, he said.

On Oct. 21, a state mental health summit will look for ways to build community responses, hearing from nine delegates from each county, Goff said. He hopes to hear whether and how communities have mapped out a response to individuals in crisis who show symptoms of mental illness.

The state plans to help communities as they form response teams and build intake centers.

“Porter County has been identified as one of four sites in all of Indiana where we’re going to provide that early technical assistance,” Goff said.

Goff said he hopes the new approach to dealing with mental health crises will ease the burden on law enforcement officers.

He knows well the struggle they go through. His friend David was shot and killed in the line of duty, leaving a wife and three children behind. Afterward, Goff kept a photo of David on the bench with him as “a visual reminder of what real cost dedication to public service means.”

Justice hopes to take mental health off law enforcement’s plate