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Columbia considering mental health crisis help for police calls


As the Missouri State Highway Patrol continues to investigate a fatal Columbia Police Department officer-involved shooting, the City of Columbia is looking to include mental health professionals to aid with crisis calls.

Twenty-two-year-old Marquis Rivera, who was reportedly suicidal, was shot by officers Friday after he came out of his apartment at The Landing, shooting bullets into the air and then at officers, Columbia police say. Officers responded by returning fire, fatally shooting Rivera.

Rivera's family said Monday that he was having a mental health crisis and police could have done more.

"He reached out for help. Two times he reached out for them to help him and they could've helped him, they didn't help him," Katuiscia Penette, Rivera's mother, said.

The City has a plan in motion to get more mental health professionals to aid in mental health crisis calls.

The City is looking into a partnership with Burrell Behavioral Health to get the co-responder program up and running in Columbia.

A co-responder is a trained and certified mental health crisis worker who aids police when responding to calls pertaining to mental health and other social service calls.

According to City Manager De'Carlon Seewood, Burrell is the only company to respond to the request for those services.

CPD closed bids June 19 for behavioral health co-responders to help the department handle calls involving mental health issues. The department already has a mental health liaison. However, that service is not always available.

Boone County Commissioner Janet Thompson said the co-response model gives police more of an opportunity to do their job on scene.

"When you have that coresponse model, you can have public safety being addressed with the law enforcement officer and you have the corresponded who can address and really de-escalate situations based on their training. So it really combines the best of both worlds,” Thompson said.

The city has set aside a little under $600,000 for the program and bids are being reviewed.

About 20% of police calls for service involve either substance use or mental health and the number is growing, according to the American Psychological Association.

The first public safety system in the U.S. started with the CAHOOTS program in 1989 in Eugene, Oregon. CAHOOTS is now what various police departments and cities are trying to model their mental health response programs after, according to the APA article.

Chris Skinner, Eugene's Police Department Chief, said in a prepared video that co-responders are here to help aid police, not take their jobs.

“They’re not a replacement for the police," he said in the video. "They’re supplementary so there’s a lot of calls they handle on their own, but there’s also a lot of calls they handle with police officers and with firefighters, paramedics, they’re just another resource in our toolbox”

The cCty of Eugene estimated it saved taxpayers around $8.5 million per year by handling mental health crisis calls with specialists instead of police.

Columbia Police Department said in a statement that "it is too early for us to speak" on what the program will look like but are making progress in creating a plan to benefit the community.

Article Topic Follows: Columbia

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Gabrielle Teiner


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