For the Pasco Police and Fire Departments, arriving on the scene of a situation involving potential mental health and substance abuse issues has become an increasingly common occurrence. Two officer-involved shootings within a year (2014-15), involving individuals known to Police and Fire from prior incidents, spurred a review of procedures the department was using in relation to mental illness and officer interaction involving use of force options. The Police Department and City Manager were dedicated to conducting an open dialog with local community groups, organizations, residents, and the ACLU to address concerns regarding how the Police Department dealt with persons with mental illness.
Similar to the struggle so many communities are facing in our nation, with limited mental health resources available, arrest or hospitalization were often the only options for people who could not be left on the street. For non-violent offenders suffering from mental illness, these are not the best options. With limited treatment options available, once released an individual would return to similar circumstances, not having had the assistance they needed to address the underlying condition(s). When released back into the community with untreated conditions they were provided with limited, if any, follow-up as communication among community organizations rarely occurred resulting in recidivism from some of the community’s highest risk members.
The aforementioned gaps in communication and services led the Pasco Police Department, Pasco Fire Department, and non-profit mental health services provider, Consistent Care, to identify the need for a collaborative team to communicate needs and determine community partners. The result was the formation of the Pasco Hot Spotters Program (Hot Spotters).
The program is a collaboration of first responders (police, fire, sheriff), legal providers (prosecuting attorneys, public defenders), city and county judges, mental health treatment providers, healthcare providers, community housing organizations, and state health and human services agencies.
Hot Spotters promotes and creates care plans for clients with complex health conditions who over-utilize the health care, emergency response, and legal systems and need special attention to help stabilize their health and living conditions and to promote public safety and community wellbeing. Additionally, Hot Spotters is committed to developing strategic plans and goals and pursuing funding to enhance the services available in the community.
An important benefit of Hot Spotters, stemming from discussions of complex cases, has been a conscious analysis of cross-agency policies, practices and procedures from dispatch to sentencing.
Opportunities for improvement have been identified and acted on at multiple points:
Hot Spotters began meeting in the fall of 2016. A shared vision of creating a better collaboration for specific high-risk individuals in the community led to several quality control issues impacting the continuity of care and process for these extreme risk individuals. Lines of communication have opened and partnerships are stronger. This has resulted in well-thought out plans being developed for each participant to include a review of their medical, law enforcement, incarceration, court, fire, ER, and housing history. The regional records management system is used to communicate alerts, plans, contacts, and updates of participants providing 24/7 access to law enforcement, corrections, fire, and city and county courts. As the plans are developed, all entities are then able to provide another piece of the puzzle and are tooled with the best course forward when a participant is contacted in the field.
The Hot Spotters program has led to positive outcomes for police, fire, corrections, and community mental health providers in the following ways:
A total of 25 individuals have been considered (or suggested) as Hot Spotter participants. Of those, 16 have received an individualized care plan for their unique situation.
Three participants have either been placed or are still in long-term supportive programs designated to assist with their individual needs.
In total, Hot Spotters participants have been contacted by law enforcement 124 separate times since fall 2016. All encounters have been without incident requiring no officer involved use of force and resulting in an arrest rate of only 18.8%.