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Michigan’s community mental health and law enforcement agencies team up to keep people out of jail 

As awareness about how policing and mental health intersect grows across the state, more Michigan counties are involving community mental health agencies in law enforcement response and helping people with mental illness receive treatment rather than incarceration.

This article is part of MI Mental Health, a new series highlighting the opportunities that Michigan’s children, teens, and adults of all ages have to find the mental health help they need, when and where they need it. It is made possible with funding from Sanilac County Community Mental HealthNorth Country Community Mental HealthCommunity Mental Health Association of Michigan, and its community mental health (CMH) agency members. 

The Sanilac County Sheriff’s Office is using a new tool that’s proving quite useful for encounters with people dealing with mental health challenges. In January 2023, Sanilac County Community Mental Health (SCCMH) sent the Sheriff’s Office a batch of new iPads, purchased with American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding. The tablets are intended to assist road patrol deputies responding to crisis calls by immediately connecting people experiencing mental health issues with trained social workers via video conferencing calls. 

The new devices have been quite a boon for officers in Sanilac County, which covers 962 square miles in Michigan’s Thumb region. Before getting the iPads, deputies often would have to wait for staff to be dispatched from SCCMH, which handles emergency mental health screenings and offers 24/7 crisis intervention for the county. But the agency only has offices in two cities, Sandusky and Croswell, so responding to these emergency calls in person often has been a time-consuming affair for everyone involved. 

Sanilac County Sheriff Paul Rich is pleased with the difference the new technology is making in the county. 

“We’re very excited. It has changed [response times] from hours to minutes,” Rich says. “And a person who’s not comfortable with law enforcement can [now speak] directly to somebody from mental health, who they maybe have a rapport with or who is a third party that they trust.”

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