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Alexandria expands behavioral health pilot program to reduce arrests

After being overwhelmed by behavioral health-related calls for service, the Alexandria Co Response Team (ACORP) pilot program is being expanded.

The pilot program soft-launched last fall, with the ACORP team (a licensed behavioral health clinician and specially trained officer) responding to 145 (16%) of behavioral health-related calls for service between October 2021 and February 2022, according to a report that goes before City Council on Tuesday (May 10).

The collaboration between the Alexandria Police Department and the city’s Department of Community and Human Services has been deemed a success by Council, which approved two more ACORP teams in the city’s fiscal year 2023 budget.

In 14 incidents where an arrest could have been made, the ACORP team diverted 10 of them (71%) from arrests, according to the report.

However, the ACORP team has been unable to respond to approximately 85% of the 958 total behavioral-health related calls because they were off duty (63% of calls) or busy with another call (21% of calls).

The team has also been hampered by a 40-hour-per-week schedule, and after a few modifications, now work between Monday and Thursday, from noon to 10 p.m., “to better address the high number of calls consistently coming in on Mondays,” according to the report.

The overwhelming majority of behavioral health-related calls for service were in the 22304 Zip code (317 calls, or 33%) and in 22314 (253 calls, or 26%).

Of the 145 behavioral health calls for service ACORP responded to between October 2021 and February 2022:

  • 52% were for unusual behavior or threats/ harm to self
  • 45% of the calls were resolved on-scene (45%)
  • 13% of calls that ACORP responded to resulted in involuntary transport to the hospital

These two incidents were mentioned in the report:

ACORP was dispatched to a scene involving a person engaging in suicidal behavior, with a knife in his hand, who had been cutting himself. Several units jointly responded to the call since there was a weapon involved, so there was a heavy police presence on the scene. As the ACORP team was trying to engage with the individual, they were surrounded by police officers (due to the imminent danger). The individual shared that he did not trust the police due to previous negative encounters and threatened to harm anyone coming close to him physically. He did say that he would talk to the ACORP co-responder (Megan) alone, but given that he was still a threat, the co-responding officer stayed in the room, and the other law enforcement officers were asked to slowly, one-by-one, step outside briefly. At that time, the ACORP team was successfully able to de-escalate this individual, get him to hand over the weapon, and voluntarily go with them to the hospital for further assessment and treatment. The individual got the help that he needed. This situation also increased trust between law enforcement and the co-response team and between the individual and law enforcement.

The ACORP team responded to a scene involving an individual in distress following a domestic dispute in the early Fall of 2021. The ACORP team successfully de-escalated this individual on-scene and referred them for additional services. A few months later, after not hearing from this man, ACORP responded to a call for service involving a different person who was heavily intoxicated and experiencing suicidal ideation. They arrived on scene, assessed the situation, and stepped into the hallway to discuss a strategy. While in the hallway, the man ACORP served months prior appeared and shared how grateful he was to the ACORP team for helping him get connected with services and as a result, leave a tumultuous relationship and achieve a better quality of life. This man heard the individual in distress behind the door, whom he knew. He was able to speak with his neighbor in distress and share how much he himself had been helped by the ACORP team. This first-hand experience helped the distressed man trust the ACORP team, agree to speak with them, and ultimately get connected to the services he needed.

 

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