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Local law enforcement calls on state leaders to better the mental health system

Agencies call the mental health system broken and want things to change.
Published: Mar. 31, 2021 at 4:33 PM EDT
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MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Va. (WDBJ) - Local law enforcement agencies are calling on state leaders across the Commonwealth of Virginia to address what they call a mental health crisis.

Representatives from multiple law enforcement agencies stood together Wednesday afternoon for a press conference addressing their frustrations over what they call a broken mental health system.

Sheriff’s offices from Montgomery, Roanoke, Bedford, Campbell, Floyd and Amherst counties, and police departments from Blacksburg and Christiansburg, all stood as one - asking to change how mental health cases are handled.

“We’ve had several different incidents within the past month that have caused us to become even more frustrated than we usually are about this issue,” said Montgomery County Sheriff Hank Partin.

They say there are many law enforcement agencies, big and small, with not enough resources to help people with mental health crises.

“However, after the initial response to a person in crisis, our efforts are often hindered, delayed, or outright stymied by systemic failures in the mental health system at the state level,” said Partin.

Officers say they have been working with many local mental crisis intervention teams, but it has not been enough.

“You know, there has always been a heavy push to remove law enforcement from the Mental Health process. We’re only ingrained more now than we’ve ever been before,” said Christiansburg Police Chief Mark Sisson.

Officers say at various state hospitals, they tell them they’re accepting patients but can’t take them in at that time, and don’t provide a timeline for when they may accept the patient.

“I mean there’s up to two, three, four days and emergency rooms with a law enforcement officer with handcuffs on when you tell me how that is beneficial to a mental health client,” said Chief Mark Sisson.

The long process to help individuals also puts them face-to-face with bed shortages at state hospitals, forcing them to take the patient somewhere else, taking away time and resources from departments.

“We’re taking these poor folks all the way across the state to Virginia Beach; there is no local support network, there is no family support network,” said Blacksburg Police Chief Anthony Wilson.

Multiple agencies say this isn’t just an issue in Southwest Virginia; they’ve seen it at departments across the state.

Now, they’re calling on the General Assembly and Department of Behavioral Health to make changes by addressing hospital bed space, transport options and mental health service. In addition, officers say they will be requesting an advisory opinion from the attorney general regarding the state hospitals telling law enforcement to delay transportation of people who meet the criteria for further mental health treatment and evaluation.

Law enforcement add this has been going on for too long and they want change - not only for them but for the communities they serve.

The following is a statement from Sheriff Partin:

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