Howard, Baltimore counties propose expanding mental health units

Baltimore and Howard counties are proposing to expand their mental health services provided by police.

Baltimore County Executive Don Mohler announced plans Friday to expand the county’s mobile crisis teams to round-the-clock availability. The teams, which are staffed by a police officer and mental health professional from the Affiliated Sante Group, currently operate only from 9:30 a.m. until 1 a.m.

Meanwhile, the Howard County Police Department announced it is expanding its mental health unit from two employees to four.

Howard County’s mental health unit, which will now have three police officers and one mental health professional, provides tracking and follow-up support for subjects with mental health concerns who have been in contact with police. The unit is separate from the mobile crisis teams which respond to incidents as they happen.

“Throughout the county, we have made it a priority to help those impacted by mental illness,” Howard County Executive Allan H. Kittleman, a Republican, said in a statement. “This expansion of the police department’s mental health unit is just the latest way we are bringing more services and support to this population.”

The two police officer positions for the mental health unit are being reorganized from vacant positions elsewhere in the department. There’s no additional cost, said Howard police spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn.

In Baltimore County, Mohler’s proposal to expand crisis teams follows a key recommendation of an independent review of how police and first responders handle mental health calls earlier this year.

Mohler, a Democrat, said in a statement that the teams provide “a vital service in their most vulnerable moments.”

“Mental health crises don’t start in the morning and end at night. We have to take care of those in need,” Mohler said.

Last year, the county’s mobile crisis teams handled 2,343 calls.

Former County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, a Democrat who died in May, had ordered the review following a series of incidents involving subjects with mental illness, including the police shooting death of Korryn Gaines in her Randallstown apartment in 2016.

Police and Gaines, who was armed with a shotgun and had a history of mental illness, engaged in a day-long standoff at her apartment that ended with police fatally shooting her. Gaines’ family sued the county and won a $38 million judgement. The county filed post-trial motions to overturn the judgement and also appealed the ruling.

The review, conducted by the Council of State Governments, found that Baltimore County’s crisis response system had a good foundation but suffered from a lack of coordination, lack of oversight and insufficient staffing.

The report was issued in late April, about two weeks before Kamenetz died of sudden cardiac arrest. At the time, he said that mental illness was a growing issue of concern for the county.

“It’s important that Baltimore County continue to be a leader in providing solutions before we have a terrible problem,” Kamenetz said at the time.

The expansion of the mobile crisis teams will cost $561,000, which needs approval from the Baltimore County Council. Council Chairman Julian Jones already has signaled his support.

pwood@baltsun.com

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