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Jan. 11—In response to the deaths of two women in the Cleveland County Detention Center, the Norman City Council on Tuesday asked the state’s mental health agency how the city can help make sure it doesn’t happen again.
During a study session, the council learned more about the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse’s two mobile crisis units, which launched in July and respond to 988 hotline calls.
In 2021, the council put off investing in its own city operated mobile crisis unit program after the news that the agency would rollout the hotline and the ongoing expansion of units throughout the state.
The hotline connects a person in crisis to mental health services such as an evaluation and referral to a crisis unit center or hospital, agency staff said.
Police departments are using iPads, paid for by the state mental health agency, for use during incidents when officers believe a person could need behavioral health services.
According to agency staff, there were an average of 50 calls in Cleveland County last month out of approximately 3,000 calls across the state. Of the calls taken, 92% of the time the needs are addressed at the time without intervention outside community resources, said Nisha Wilson, the agency’s chief clinical strategy officer told council members.
While the Norman Police Department has 46 iPads from the agency, Captain Carl Pendleton said 12 are in use as a pilot project to help the department create a policy for its use.
Ward 6 council member Elizabeth Foreman asked what could the city do to partner with the agency.
“What would this look like to you?” she asked.
Ron Sims, the state mental health agency’s chief of statewide crisis services, said providing more iPads could be an option.
He stressed the iPad is a place to start for officers and one that helps the officer make that decision more comfortably if a mental health professional believes that a person needs to be referred for services.
Pendleton pointed out the iPads are only useful if the person they have contact with is “cooperative” and agrees to use it.
Sims said he would also like to see more awareness of the hotline and the services available by calling the number.
Billboards and TV spots is a type of engagement that is not “boots on the ground, community awareness stuff,” Sims said.
The council also learned officers can call 988 if they are in contact with someone they believe needs services. Members also learned that only 18% of Norman officers are participating in crisis intervention training (CIT).
Pendleton said the department had at least 23% trained, but staff turnover in the past couple of years caused the percentage to drop.
Time ran out for the questions that council members said they would like to ask because of the council’s regularly scheduled 6:30 p.m. meeting.
Mayor Larry Heikkila agreed that a second study session without that time constraint is warranted.