The Missoula County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council has received a $125,000 grant from the state Department of Health and Human Services to fund a mobile crisis team to respond to calls for people in mental health crisis instead of law enforcement or other first responders.

Kristen Jordan is the manager of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council Department for Missoula County. She explains the purpose of the grant.

“The purpose of the grant is to fund a mobile crisis team here in Missoula County,” said Jordan. “Conversations have been occurring here for a long time about getting a mobile crisis team in Missoula County. The idea behind them is that instead of sending law enforcement and first responders to 9-1-1 calls that are mental health related that we send mental health professionals instead.”

Jordan described the make-up of a mental health crisis team.

“It will be a team of three,” she said. “There will be two mental health professionals that will respond to the scene after a 9-1-1 call is triaged for mental health purposes. Then, a third member of the team will be a mental health case manager who provides the follow-up care in the days or weeks following the call.”

Jordan was asked if this team has been created in the wake of calls in major cities to defund the local law enforcement agencies in favor of more mental health care.

“It’s kind of the new wave in criminal justice where we try to keep people in a mental health crisis out of the criminal justice system,” she said. “What often happens is that people who are in a crisis, who where it can happen, that is they commit a crime then law enforcement officers are brought in. They treat the crime, which is appropriate, but the mental health part goes unaddressed because the crime takes priority. What we’re trying to do is catch people in crisis and provide them the services on the front line so that they can get the care for the mental health problem which is the underlying reason why they commit crimes, sometimes.”

Jordan was asked what may happen when a call comes in that will require the mental health aspect in addition to a possibly dangerous situation that will also require law enforcement protection.

“What’s going to happen is that a lot of training is going to happen in our 9-1-1 center where they’re going to be trained to really asses those calls based on danger, and what might happen if they send both law enforcement and the mobile crisis team, so that they’ll have the skills to address the safety and the mental health component.”

Research shows that every dollar spent on mobile crisis saves $5 to $7 elsewhere in the mental health and criminal justice systems.

The goal is to have the mobile crisis team active by September.