Sheriff Hopes New Mental Health Access Centers Help Ease Burden on Law Enforcement

Sherriff’s deputies in Iowa are increasingly spending time on mental health cases. They are tracking down people who are court-ordered to enter mental health treatment and transporting patients between hospitals and commitment hearings.

Black Hawk County Sheriff Tony Thompson says his deputies sometimes arrest people who not breaking the law but who clearly need assistance. He says sometimes there’s nowhere to take them but to jail.

“We’re criminalizing the state’s mentally ill only because we don’t have a robust enough infrastructure to be able to support those programs those networks and those obligations.”

Experts say the state’s new mental health law could help fill some of those gaps. During this hour of Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe talks with Thompson. 

Drew Martel, mobile crisis program manager for Foundation 2, which covers seven counties in eastern Iowa, and Tony Leys, health reporter for the Des Moines Register, also join the program. Martel says that his mobile crisis response team has helped cut the time law enforcement spends responding to mental health related calls. 

"Our mobile team is staffed by on call professionals," he explains. "If someone calls our crisis line and is having a crisis, they will send someone out to them within an hour. Our goal is to support a person and avoid a higher level of care."