Increasingly, Maine Police on Front Lines for Mental Illness Interventions

Portland Press Herald

By Edward D. Murphy

Maine is seeing a surge in involuntary committals – cases where people are held for mental health issues against their will – that is changing how police do their jobs.

The number of those committals has risen steadily in the last decade, from 344 in 2009 to 401 last year, an increase of nearly 17 percent. In another measure of mental illness affecting law enforcement and the courts, the number of Mainers found not competent to stand trial has leapt from seven in 2008 to 136 last year.

As state-provided services for the mentally ill dwindle, more front-line intervention work is performed by Maine’s law enforcement community, significantly changing how police train for and perform their jobs.

The number of calls for service that were mental health-related for the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office rose from 383 in 2013 to 486 last year, an increase of nearly 27 percent. This year, the pace is continuing to rise, with 278 calls for service through early July, according to figures from the sheriff’s office. And those numbers don’t include calls for other issues – such as domestic violence or a disturbance – that are rooted in mental illness but categorized differently.

Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin J. Joyce said calls related to people in crisis are spiking. “We are the default mental health system after normal business hours,” he said.

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