Spokane's law enforcement agencies have received a roughly $700,000 grant to pay for additional mental health workers to work alongside sheriff's deputies and police officers, an innovative program intended to connect people with services and treatment instead of jail.
The money will fund four additional mental health workers from Frontier Behavioral Health who will be split between both the Spokane Police Department and the Spokane County Sheriff's Office. Currently, the Police Department collaborates with four workers from the service provider. The Sheriff's Office, meanwhile, has dedicated one deputy to work alongside a mental health worker full time.
The funding stems from roughly $2 million that Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs received from the state Legislature to pay for mental-health-oriented law enforcement responses. Most of this money came from the settlement in the Trueblood case, where the state was sued for not giving timely competency evaluations to mentally ill defendants.
The existing mental health teams in Spokane — officially dubbed Community Diversion Units — were also funded by Trueblood case settlement funds, and have demonstrated success so far. As of late March 2019, of the 700 people contacted by workers deployed with police officers, 487 were diverted away from jail or expensive emergency room visits to various local treatment, housing and social service providers, according to Frontier Behavioral Health staff.
Spokane, along with law enforcement in Wenatchee, were the only Eastern Washington agencies to receive the grant funding.