Calling 911 isn’t what it used to be.
Police departments all over the nation are seeing a steady increase in 911 calls relating to mental health, and rather than dispatching officers untrained in handling these often volatile situations, they are calling on mental health professionals to help.
According to a 2021 report by the American Psychological Association, a nationwide survey of more than 2,400 senior law enforcement officials by the Mental Illness Policy say that 63 percent of the respondents reported that police personnel have seen a “substantial” spike in the amount of time that they spend involving individuals with mental illness. The officers reported that the mental illness-related calls take “significantly longer than larceny, domestic dispute, traffic and other calls.”
The APA report said more cities are pairing mental health professionals with police to better help people in crisis. Dunwoody’s police force joined those ranks last month, hiring social worker Megan Wynn, who will act as a co-responder with law enforcement officials.
“We have seen a steady increase in calls involving mental health, sometimes up to 80% to 90% of the calls received,” Sgt. Michael Cheek, public information officer, said. “In most of these cases we have only one path, which is usually a negative law enforcement encounter that doesn’t address the underlying issue.”
Wynn has one important tool as a social worker that law enforcement officials don’t have – the ability to begin a legal process involving the filing of a so-called “1013 form” that initiates a mandatory 48-hour hospital evaluation for people undergoing a mental health crisis.
“She has the ability to force the issue, whereas we are in a tough spot because we can’t do that,” Cheek said. “She also has the resources and the time to follow up to ensure the person is continuing to use available resources.”
In the month since social worker Wynn was hired as a medical clinician by the department, she has already diffused a situation involving what Cheek calls a “frequent flyer.”
On Aug. 11, several callers reported a disoriented naked white male exposing himself to passersby at the corner of Mount Vernon and Ashford Dunwoody Roads.
“After we established that the scene was secure, Megan was dispatched and talked him into going to the hospital and then she filed a 1013 so that he could get some treatment,” Cheek said. “Within 15 minutes, she had the situation under control. If it was only the police handling the situation, it was clear that he would have been heading to jail.”
Cheek said the suspect was well-known to officers in the community who had refused previous offers of help. Wynn said she was grateful that she was able to offer her expertise and clout to ensure the man got the treatment he needs.
“This is a gentleman who needs the health care system rather than the criminal justice system,” Wynn said. “What I can do frees up the officer’s time that would have been spent at a hospital or taking him to jail.”