Jonathan Brostoff
Press Release

Mental Health: A Community Conversation

I’ve heard from many citizens with questions and concerns about mental health services in Milwaukee.

By - Feb 4th, 2016 08:00 am

Two encounters, two outcomes: On April 30th, 2014, Dontre Hamilton, a man with paranoid schizophrenia in a public park, apparently doing nothing, was approached by a Milwaukee police officer; a scuffle ensued, and the officer shot and killed Mr. Hamilton. On January 25th, 2016, a man threatening to kill himself and any officer who came to his house, surrendered without incident after hours of police negotiation. Clearly, encounters between police and people in mental health crisis can result in positive outcomes.

Since the tragic death of Dontre Hamilton, actions to implement Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training — although used, inconsistently, by Milwaukee area police departments since 2006 — have increased. Yet, even though such training can be helpful for officers dealing with people in mental health crisis, the police are not social service professionals. For that reason, law enforcement should not be the primary resource we use to help people in mental health crisis. Of course, law enforcement must always be involved when the public’s safety is endangered. But in other situations (and there are many) mental health professionals and social service professionals should be primarily responsible for providing appropriate mental health services and other social services.

As a member of the Wisconsin Assembly Mental Health Reform Committee, I’ve heard from many citizens with questions and concerns about mental health services in Milwaukee. Among these concerns are reports of individuals with mental illness who end up, inappropriately, in the Milwaukee County Jail. Unfortunately, the Crisis Resource Centers, established to partner with CIT officers as a resource alternative to jails, have been underfunded and are often not available during evening and night hours.

To remedy that problem the Milwaukee County Mental Health Board, created with the stated intent of having experts as decision makers, recommended expanded hours. But the Board’s recommendation was blocked by our current County Executive. The Board’s Quality subcommittee has also released reports of poor standards of care, including inadequate discharge planning.

In order to address these and related issues, I am holding a community listening session on the state of mental health in Milwaukee at the Washington Park Senior Center, 4420 W. Vliet, Milwaukee, on Saturday, February 6th from 12:00 noon to 3:00 p.m. I want to hear from family members, community leaders, stakeholders, experts, professionals, advocates and all others interested in sharing their stories on the state of mental health care in Milwaukee, and their ideas for making things better.

More than a year has now passed since the Milwaukee County Mental Health overhaul legislation (Act 203) was enacted. It is time to look at what is working, what needs improvement, and what else we can do to meet the need for appropriate treatment of our friends, family and other community members who live with mental illness. Please join us on Saturday the 6th and bring your experiences and ideas.

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