House of Representatives

Randleman, Walke Lead Bipartisan Study on Law Enforcement Response to Mental Health Crises

9/14/2021 10:15:00 AM

Contact: Rep. Randy Randleman
Phone: (405) 557-7375

The House Public Safety Committee met at the State Capitol on Monday morning to learn about the correlation between the prevalence of quality mental health services and the frequency of law enforcement intervention.

The study, IS21-035, was a bipartisan request from Rep. Randy Randleman, R-Eufaula, and Rep. Collin Walke, D-Oklahoma City.

Randleman, a licensed psychologist, said the study had two purposes: first, to establish that Oklahoma needs more mental health crisis units and second, to help law enforcement recognize when an individual is dealing with a mental health disorder.

“Nearly one million Oklahomans suffer from a mental health disorder, so this is a topic that is really critical in our state,” Randleman said. “We want to ensure that these people are treated with dignity while in the throes of a mental health crisis and that they are placed in a treatment area that can get them the help they need.”

“We have known for a long time that individuals with mental health issues are disproportionately incarcerated,” Walke said. “That is why I am proud to work in a bipartisan fashion with Rep. Randleman to explore innovative ways to help individuals in need of mental health treatment avoid incarceration, while at the same time ensuring public safety.”

Carrie Slatton-Hodges, Oklahoma Commissioner of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, told the committee about the ongoing process to implement an easily memorable phone number for people to call during a psychiatric emergency.

“On July 1, 2022, we will have a nationwide number for psychiatric emergency,” Slatton-Hodges said.

The number, 988, will connect to a statewide call center staffed by licensed behavioral health professionals who can assess the crisis and determine what steps should be taken next, as well as schedule a same day or next day appointment.

Tulsa County Mental Health Court Special Judge Kirsten Pace explained the difference between the civil mental health court system and other specialty courts. She said that Tulsa County averages around 1,000 civil commitment mental health cases a year.

“With the daily civil mental health docket, we’re primarily focusing on patients or respondents who are ill enough with their psychiatric symptoms that they require inpatient civil involuntary commitment for treatment,” Pace said.

Cathy Costello, an advocate for mental health reform, shared her family’s story and her son’s struggle with mental illness.

“No family, in this state or any other state, should have to go through what we went through,” Costello said.

Costello explained the value of assistant outpatient treatment (AOT), which is the practice of delivering outpatient treatment under court order to adults with severe mental illness who meet specific criteria. She said AOT is available in Canadian, Pottawatomie, Kay, Payne, Mayes, Tulsa and Oklahoma counties.

Costello also spoke about the importance of crisis intervention training (CIT) for police officers.

“I am overwhelmed and impressed and touched by the number of police officers who want to help those individuals in a mental health crisis," Costello said. "And I’m telling you when you have somebody who’s holding a knife or a gun who is threatening you, a family member, or someone else, you do need police to intervene. It happens.”

Haskell County Sheriff Tim Turner spoke on the impact of the McGirt v. Oklahoma decision.

“We now have to send those individuals to tribal court," Turner said. "Tribal court is not set up nor does tribal court have the knowledge of what we’re seeing with these folks who suffer from mental illness and with tribal court the offenders understand that there’s nothing going to happen to them so it doesn’t affect them to continue to reoffend. So that takes a big portion of our teeth out of what we do.”

Turner said about 60% of Haskell County residents are tribal members.

Tulsa County Sheriff Vic Regalado, who joined the Tulsa Police Department in 1993, talked about the role of law enforcement in mental health crises.

“Mental illness often results in a vicious cycle of poverty, homelessness, and incarceration,” Regalado said, adding: “Jails are the largest provider of mental health in the country.”

Donna Frick, a board member for National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Tulsa, spoke on her family’s struggle to access mental illness services for her son.

“It should not be a battle to get care for your child or your loved one in this state,” Frick said.

Following the study, Randleman and Walke expressed a commitment to continue working across the aisle to ensure better care for Oklahomans suffering from mental illness and will consider drafting legislation to address some of these issues.