Dozens braved pouring rain to gather at a rally at Seattle's Westlake Center Saturday to push for changes in how police deal with those they encounter who are facing a mental health crisis. Some programs have already started sending out counselors to help with officers.
Several communities including Seattle, Bothell, and Shoreline have programs where mental health professionals can go out with officers. Other departments are trying to expand this type of response which advocates believe is already saving lives.
At the rally, they said more training and help from Mental Health Professionals could save lives. The event was geared toward honoring Billy Langfitt, who was killed by a Pierce County Sherriff’s officer in March.
The officer was responding to a 911 call when Langfitt jumped into his patrol car. Loved ones say he was having a mental breakdown and they wanted help getting him to a hospital.
His girlfriend Naomi Powers told the crowd they want to see change.
“Understand that these people need help, whatever training is available, get out there and make that available to the officers so we can trust and feel safe,” she explained.
Susie Kroll is a mental health professional who works alongside police in several departments.
“We get to say I'm a counselor, not a police officer. I don't really care what you did or didn't do,” she said.
Kroll uses her skills to make sure those in crisis have access to counseling, treatment or other services they might need to tackle a mental health issue.
Kroll believes her partnership with officers has benefited people in many ways.
“I've had some significant training with law enforcement and I'm also hostage negotiator trained, so there is a lot of de-escalation techniques given in those trainings,” she explained.
Sergeant John Rogers with Bothell Police says they believe it’s helped officers.
“This is the future of law enforcement, without a doubt,” he said.
Officers in the department have embraced her help.
“That's the goal; we're trying to help people out there.”
State Senator Manka Dhingra wants to see every department have a program like this.
“We see such amazing results when you have mental health professionals embedded with law enforcement,” Dhingra said.
Dhingra says legislation they passed this year provides more funding to train officers and give more departments the chance to bring in mental health professionals to help.