Our community has been dealing too quietly for too long with a growing crisis. For years we have made cuts in mental health stabilization, and as a result, we have taken what should be a health issue and put it on the backs of law enforcement. This is a poor use of our community’s limited resources, and it does a disservice to those affected by illness when we treat them like criminals. As a former chief of the Baton Rouge Police Department, I’ve seen first-hand the pivotal role that a mental health crisis stabilization center can play in our community.
Previously, when our police officers encountered individuals experiencing a crisis, either after being called by a concerned family member or loved one, or even by a community member, officers could transport these individuals to a place called the MHERE, or the Mental Health Emergency Room Extension, at the Earl K. Long Hospital. The MHERE provided a place where individuals in crisis could receive stabilization services. However, with the closure of Earl K. Long in 2013, the MHERE also closed, and along with it, the alternative to parish prison.
East Baton Rouge Sheriff Sid Gautreaux estimates that 70 percent of people in the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison have a diagnosed mental healt…
Now, police officers and other first responders do not have the option of transporting those in crisis to a local facility equipped with the tools necessary to stabilize and treat mental illness or related substance abuse. Instead, they are forced to choose between the emergency room or the parish prison. As a result, our officers are taken off the streets for large chunks of time, and those in our community who are sick remain in the crisis cycle.
At a time when our parish is experiencing spikes in violent crime, as well as a 300 percent increase in the number of deaths by overdose since 2012, we are at a tipping point in how we respond to these issues.
On Saturday, Dec. 8, East Baton Rouge voters have the opportunity to correct course.
As a long-time civil servant, I ask my fellow community members to turn out and VOTE YES for the proposed mental health crisis stabilization center. Visit geauxvote.com to find your polling location; polls are open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Trust me, we are paying for it either way. Let’s put our money in a place where we will get the results we need — for our law enforcement officers, our community, and those in our own families who may someday need this resource to save their life.
former chief, Baton Rouge Police Department