County officials are weighing whether to make room in next year’s budget for providing mental health crisis intervention training to 911 dispatchers in the area.
The plan would allocate additional funding to conducting the mental health training for dispatchers, led by the Dane County chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
“One way to limit the jail population is to divert those with mental health issue from the criminal justice system,” said Dane County Supervisor Paul Rusk. “Helping our 911 people make crucial decisions during a crisis can be a key part of that.”
Under the proposal, dispatchers would undergo a two day-long training sessions, which are also geared towards firefighters, medics and parole officers, according to NAMI Dane County Executive Director Lindsay Wallace.
Training would also be available to staff at a new homeless day center, The Beacon, located downtown.
Phil Pape, President of the UW-Madison chapter of NAMI, says the initiative would be a way for responders to de-escalate situations before they “hit a boiling point.”
“How can police officers better help students and citizens if they don’t even know where the problems stemmed from in the first place?” Pape said. “It’s basic psychology, why should our law enforcement be damage control when they can be listeners and advocates for those that may be already struggling?”
The proposal would add around $63,000 to the existing $538 million budget, mainly to cover costs of overtime for emergency dispatchers.
Officials are also considering a $76 million plan to upgrade the county jail to accommodate inmates with mental illnesses. By consolidating prison facilities in one building, it would create space for mental health treatment and counseling programs.
The PPJC also proposed in the budget a $100,000 study to review mental health services and estimate the feasibility of a crisis restoration center.
Officials will finalize the final budget Nov. 20.