Graham Kilmer
MKE County

County Invests in Mental Health Crisis Responders

$500,000 for a team of Sheriff's deputies and psychiatric clinicians.

By - Sep 12th, 2020 09:36 am

Milwaukee County Courthouse. Photo by Sulfur at English Wikipedia [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Milwaukee County Courthouse. Photo by Sulfur at English Wikipedia (GFDL) or (CC-BY-SA-3.0), via Wikimedia Commons

Milwaukee County is putting half a million dollars into a program aimed at diverting people going through mental health crises away from the criminal justice system.

The Behavioral Health Division is putting $500,000 into an expansion of its Crisis Assessment and Response Team (CART), which first launched in 2013 as a partnership with the Milwaukee Police Department.

This $500,000 will develop a five-member CART team in the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office. The five deputies that are part of the team will be paired with a psychiatric clinician from BHD and will be trained in nonviolent de-escalation, crisis negotiation and crisis intervention.

Enjoli Varnado, a psychiatric clinician that works with MPD’s CART team recently joined a virtual press conference announcing the new Sheriff’s team. She said the training and use of CART teams allows for “a non-violent approach to de-escalating crises as they arrive.”

Once a CART team has responded, and potentially de-escalated a crisis, they can connect the person to a case manager and community-based resources, “preventing hospitalizations, if possible, or even a visit to jail,” she said.

Since its inception, CART in Milwaukee has been intended to divert people in mental health crises away from the criminal justice system and towards mental health resources. “We’ve seen the proven success of this model locally and nationally,” said Sheriff Earnell Lucas in a statement.

“Keeping residents safe means offering services that treat the holistic needs of the individual,” County Executive David Crowley said. “When it comes to mental health needs, residents deserve to have trained clinicians respond in times of crisis.”

The BHD/MPD CART team has managed to avoid emergency detention for 80 percent of the crises they’ve responded to, Crowley said. The new CART team is about increasing public safety and bringing “more resources to those who have been historically underserved, and unable to really access the mental health services that they need,” he said.

Ted Chisholm, chief of staff to the sheriff, said the county CART team will be rolled out between 2020 and 2021, with three deputy positions getting funding this fall and two more in early 2021.

Chisholm said the sheriff’s office recognizes that the community expects public safety responses that emphasize “the dignity and humanity of all individuals with whom we interact.”

When the sheriff’s office responds to someone in the throes of a mental health crisis, be it self harm or related to substance abuse, “it’s really critical that our deputies have the tools they need to intervene in a way that everybody can walk away connected to the best resources available. And in a way that repairs trauma and harm and does not connect individuals to the system of incarceration wherever possible,” he said.

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One thought on “MKE County: County Invests in Mental Health Crisis Responders”

  1. Douglas Johnson says:

    Hhmm. I seem to remember such a program years ago that Milwaukee County had a program called the Mobile Psychiatric Crisis Intervention Program. Hhmm, I also seem to remember that program was slashed along with much of the Milwaukee County Psychiatric Programs under Scott Walker. I also remember having worked with the Milwaukee County Psychiatric Services when these programs were active and actually getting national recognition and awards for their programs and services. The Crisis Intervention team worked in tandem with the Milwaukee Police Dept and the Milwaukee County Sheriffs Dept. to do exactly what this program is going to do. One of Scott Walkers advisors/aide said at one point ‘the public doesn’t care about those people (the mentally ill).

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