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Waukesha County, WI receives Innovative Approach to Problem Solving award from the WI Policy Forum for its embedded mental health professional program

Law enforcement professionals frequently are first responders to people experiencing mental health crises, and in Waukesha County, the frequency of such calls has risen. A collaboration of the Waukesha County Sheriff’s Department (WCSD) and Waukesha County Department of Health and Human Services (WCDHHS) embeds a mental health professional (MHP) — a certified crisis clinician — with WCSD. The MHP deploys in real-time to the scene of mental health-related calls independently of WCSD deputies. If the situation does not require continued law enforcement presence, the MHP remains while the deputy may leave. The MHP also monitors calls for service through the police radio and dispatch system. The MHP initiates a response to assist in situations that may not initially be identified as mental health related but are based on a mental health concern. This element of the MHP program has been integral in identifying people in need of mental health services, linking them with resources, and decreasing arrests and legal charges for individuals experiencing a mental health crisis. A grant-funded pilot in fall 2021 proved successful and the program is now permanent, with plans for similar positions at the City of Waukesha Police Department and 911 Waukesha County Communications. County officials say it shortened the response time for mental health response more than 50% — a change they say has significantly affected the outcomes of responses — while freeing up significant time for sheriff’s deputies to handle other law enforcement duties.

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