The goals suggested in the name of Baton Rouge’s proposed “Recovery and Empowerment Center” are noble ones, but the concept is also a practical one. Such a center ought to be a destination for the mentally ill or otherwise challenged people who will clog the jails and claim the attention of our police and deputies.
The notion, taken from a successful project in San Antonio, is a place for help during a behavioral crisis. According to a concept promoted by mental health professionals and others organized by the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, the center would range from a place where inebriated folks could sleep off a wicked buzz or an accompanying hangover to a facility where counselors, social workers and a psychiatrist would be on hand to help people suffering from psychotic episodes. Law enforcement officers could drop off people clearly needing mental health counseling more than time behind bars.
Ideally, a team of “care liaisons or case managers” would follow up with every person who inevitably leaves the REC, helping the person transition into a better lifestyle.
This wish list from planners is worthy of close attention, but tons of good questions remain about funding the operation.
Earlier this year, the Metro Council rejected a $335 million tax proposal geared for public safety projects that would have included about $16 million for the mental health center. While council members embraced the concept, endorsed by Mayor-President Kip Holden, they said it wasn’t clear that all of the proposed projects were needed, especially if they required new taxes.
Clearly, the kind of full-service center envisioned in this plan will inevitably require tax money, perhaps for both building and operation.
“At some point or another, this will cost something,” commented the Rev. Raymond Jetson. “We don’t know today what that cost is.”
What we do know is the cost of inaction on this front.
Time is money, and the time that police officers spend on the mentally challenged on the streets is an obvious drain on taxpayer dollars. San Antonio officials report substantial savings there because of an aggressive approach to keeping people better served elsewhere out of the jails.
Jail overcrowding is a fact of financial life, not just a law enforcement concern. Diverting those who can be safely sent to a recovery center would be a significant advance and good for the taxpayer as well as the troubled soul immediately concerned.
As this effort is fleshed out, the potential to aid law enforcement is of great interest to us. We applaud BRAF and the planners for working toward a long-term solution to a day-to-day problem facing officers on the streets.