New tool saves lives during mental health crises

OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR)- The Oklahoma County’s Sheriff Office has a new tool to help assist people with mental health problems.

“Every day, police encounter people experiencing mental health issues.  While a large percentage of Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Deputies are CIT (Crisis Intervention Training) certified, often the type of mental health crisis they encounter goes beyond their training,” said Aaron Brilbeck, with the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office. 

Now, deputies are turning to technology and experts to help ease the situation.

Brilbeck told KFOR that if a deputy encounters someone experiencing a mental health episode, special iPads can Facetime a therapist immediately on scene.

The sheriff’s office says it has seen firsthand how the new tools help de-escalate mental health crises.

“As soon as I asked them if they would like to talk to a therapist right then and there, and they didn’t have to go anywhere, you could see their anxiety subside,” said Lt. Gene Bradley, with Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office. 

More than 50 of the new devices are used daily by deputies to help save lives.

“There are three buttons, three choices that you can pick from all mental health providers,” Brilbeck said.

Those mental health providers are HOPE Community Services, NorthCare, and Red Rock Behavioral Health Services. Therapists from each provider are accessible 24-hours-a-day.

Bradley told KFOR he has more than fifteen years of experience with mental health, but the new service is a gamechanger for law enforcement officials. 

He stated the sheriff’s office responds to more than 85 mental health calls per month.

Last week, Brilbeck said deputies ​encountered a suicidal man who was in a severe mental and emotional crisis.

“We were able to calm him down using this device, using one of the counselors, and prevent suicide,” said Brilbeck. 

Deputies are Crisis Intervention Training certified, but they say therapists are the best people to assist with mental health situations.

“We were able to stay in our role and let the police officers stay in their role but help each other do what we do best,” said Beth Combs, with NorthCare. 

 “There could be many reasons why the situation doesn’t de-escalate to the level that we want,” said Lt. Bradley. “It could be the uniform. It could be lots of different things. That’s where this tablet has come into play.”

The devices are two-weeks-old and have already been used more than a dozen times. 

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