Milwaukee County Behavioral Health and Milwaukee Police Collaborate on Crisis Assessment Response Team to Stabilize Individuals in Mental Health Crises
March 25th, 2019 - The interactions between police and individuals with mental health concerns have become increasingly entangled. For example, police officers are often the first contact for social services for individuals experiencing a mental health crisis. Training officers on how to approach these crisis situations is critical to ensure safety for the individual in crisis, the involved officers, and the larger community.
To improve outcomes for individuals experiencing a mental health crisis, the Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Division (BHD) and the Milwaukee Police Department (MPD) launched their Crisis Assessment Response Team (CART) in 2013 to respond to mental health crises in the community. CART pairs a behavioral health clinician and a police officer with the goal to stabilize individuals in a safe environment, refer them to community resources, and avoid involuntary hospitalization or detention.
Milwaukee’s CART initiative is a part of a national trend for law enforcement and behavioral health partnerships to develop more early diversions to keep individuals with mental and/or substance use disorders out of the criminal justice system. CART is a "front door" approach to prevent the need for more intensive interventions later on and to decrease the likelihood of arrest or involuntary admission into an emergency room or crisis center. The BHD clinician completes a behavioral health assessment which can influence other opportunities for diversion and treatment. If the individual is arrested and booked into jail, the assessment can continue to provide guidance for future interventions.
CART is one of a handful of strategies currently being utilized in Milwaukee County to reduce the disproportionate involvement of persons with serious mental health crises in the criminal justice system. BHD also has Crisis Mobile Teams that bring resources to individuals in crisis rather than requiring them to go to treatment centers. BHD mobile response includes crisis intervention services and community support for youth, adults, and families who have complex behavioral health needs. This includes runaway situations, parent-child conflicts, emotional crisis, mental health incidences, and children affected by violent crime.
CART launched with two teams working in the City of Milwaukee and has since expanded to five teams. There are now three teams that consist of a BHD clinician and a MPD officer. A 4th team consisting of a BHD clinician and a District Attorney’s Office Investigator was added in 2017 and offers benefit of having countywide jurisdiction. A 5th team with the West Allis Police Department was launched in 2018.
Since 2013, more individuals have become aware of the available community mental health resources and have made more referrals. Total CART contacts grew from 1,190 in 2017 to 2,722 in 2018 - a 129% increase. Of those contacts, 1,321 involved face-to-face mobile team assessments. About 54% of all face-to-face assessments in 2018 concluded with the individual being stabilized on scene, with the other incidents ending with voluntary transport to Milwaukee County Psychiatric Crisis Service (PCS), voluntary transport to a private facility, medical clearance, emergency detention, or some were cleared for booking.
Individuals who experience a behavioral health crisis can often be better served by receiving help for their situation rather than entering the criminal justice system. With this framework in mind, CART as well as the BHD mobile teams, continue to provide better outcomes for individuals in crisis by improving the ways in which police, mental health services, and the community understand and respond to mental health crises. Law enforcement and behavioral health professionals are able to collaboratively educate individuals on resources available, thus improving the individual’s understanding of options available to them and building their own autonomy in their decision making.
Through CART, individuals in crisis are treated with dignity and able to connect to the appropriate treatment and resources they deserve. As this collaboration process unfolds, police, clinicians and community members gain a greater understanding and respect for each other. This supports the continued collaboration necessary to address emerging issues, sustain crisis intervention programs, and make our communities safer.
The crisis mobile teams are available to all community members by calling BHD’s 24-hour crisis line at 414-257-7222. The current hours for CART are: Monday through Friday 9am - 10pm and Saturday and Sunday 11am - 7pm. Please know that if you are experiencing a crisis that you are not alone and there is support available to you.
***For more information about the Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Division, please call 414-257-6995 or visit their website.
Again, the BHD crisis line is available 24/7 at 414-257-7222.
***To hear from the perspective of a BHD clinician and MPD officer about CART, check out this recent WUWM interview.
***You can also watch this simulation video as one example of how CART can support someone in crisis. Please remember this is only a simulation and does not give the full extent to which CART can support an individual.
Mental Health America
National Council for Behavioral Health
National Empowerment Center
National Institute of Mental Health
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255)
The Trevor Project (1-866-488-7386)
Trans Lifeline (1-877-565-8860)
Free Mental Health Resources in Milwaukee