Graham Kilmer
MKE County

Board Approves Mental Health Crisis Team

Partnering sheriff's deputies and mental health professionals. But some supervisors opposed creating new Sheriff's Deputy positions.

By - Jun 25th, 2021 09:00 am

Milwaukee County Courthouse. Photo by Sulfur at English Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/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

The Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors provided the final approval necessary for a new team that pairs law enforcement with mental health professionals to respond to mental health crises in the community.

The Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Division (BHD) has developed what is called the Crisis Assessment and Response Team or CART. This program pairs a law enforcement officer with a psychiatric clinician and trains them in nonviolent de-escalation, crisis negotiation and crisis intervention. The team responds to calls for law enforcement that involve mental health, like a psychiatric crisis or substance abuse.

BHD has already partnered with the Milwaukee Police Department (MPD) and the West Allis Police Department on CART. The MPD program began in 2013, and the data from that program indicates that 80% of the time CART responded it did not end with an emergency detention.

In September 2020, the Milwaukee County Mental Health Board, which oversees BHD, approved $500,000 for the creation of a CART pilot program with the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO). This initial funding will partner three Sheriff’s Deputies with BHD clinicians. $300,000 will be used to offset the cost of three new deputy positions.

The new program is supported by Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley and Milwaukee County Sheriff Earnell Lucas.

But Sup. Ryan Clancy raised opposition to funding the deputy positions for the program when it first went before the board’s Finance Committee in May. At the time, Clancy said the funding for the deputies should come from the MCSO and that the board should abolish three existing deputy positions to pay for them.

Sup. Willie Johnson, Jr. noted during that May meeting that the Milwaukee Mental Health Board approved the funding and that the board has no say in their decisions. The only control the board can exert over BHD is during the deliberation of the annual county budget.

The committee tabled approving the deputy positions until June. In June, the committee once again heard from BHD and the Sheriff’s Office supporting the program. Ted Chisholm, chief of staff to Sheriff Lucas, explained the program brings the BHD personnel into mental health interventions that, before, would have solely involved law enforcement. Chisholm also argued against cutting deputy positions, saying the MCSO is already understaffed and cuts would exacerbate that.

Clancy advanced an amendment to abolish three deputy positions and transfer $300,000 from the MCSO to BHD to pay for the deputies on CART. But the committee voted it down. Clancy introduced his amendment again before the full board on Thursday.

Clancy told the board that his amendment “will allow us to get rid of those duplicate positions but still create those CART teams.”

Sup. Anthony Staskunas argued against it, echoing comments made by Chisholm about understaffing in the MCSO. Staskunas noted that the Milwaukee County Jail is sorely understaffed. The majority of MCSO overtime is spent staffing the jail.

Sup. Shawn Rolland argued against cutting the deputy positions. “My sense, big picture, is that at the end of the day we all want a CART team that can rapidly respond to a person in crisis,” Rolland said. To that end, the deputies on CART should be dedicated to that task, he said, and not have to be pulled from other duties for a CART response.

The board voted Clancy’s amendment down. Only Supervisors Priscilla E. Coggs-Jones, Steven Shea and Sequanna Taylor voted along with Clancy in favor of it.

Then the board voted to approve the new deputy positions for the program. Clancy voted against this, and was joined by Chairwoman Marcelia Nicholson, Shea, Coggs-Jones and Taylor.

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Categories: Health, MKE County

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