Reporter: "Are our officers becoming that first line of care in mental health?"
Burlington Police Chief Mike Schirling: "They absolutely are."
Chief Schirling says mental health calls are up nearly 400 percent in five years.
"When things are going poorly, the only people to call are police officers," he says. "And I think we need to take a hard look at creating alternatives, not just in Burlington, not just in Vermont, but this is a national problem."
The Chief says people who really need mental health treatment are ending up in jail. On November 4, Burlington Police responded to the Winooski Bridge for a jumper.
"He didn't threaten to jump, he didn't say 'stop me from jumping', he actually jumped. He survived that. He was released. He wasn't put into any kind of in patient treatment and the week later called us and said, 'I've got a gun and I'm going to shoot myself,'" Schirling says.
They went to the man's house, set up a perimeter and started negotiating.
"He came out of his house holding, what ended up being a television remote, to his head after telling us that he wanted us to kill him. He's now in jail," says Schirling.
The Chief says at least once a month Burlington officers respond to situations where a suspect has made it clear that they want the police to kill them, something known as suicide by cop.
"The guy from the bridge is in jail for making a false public alarm. The facts fit. It's not like he's there illegally, but it's a perverted use of the criminal justice system where we should be using a mental health system," Schirling says. "Meanwhile, we're using a bed in the criminal justice system that we could use for someone who's dealing drugs or doing burglaries or armed robberies or something else."
Reporter: "Instead a man who jumped off a bridge but couldn't get help afterwards is now in jail."
The Chief says the emergency room is overwhelmed by mental health cases.
"We don't have enough beds for people in serious mental health crisis. We don't have enough middle ground placements for folks who don't need locked facilities, but do need day to day help to manage their lives. We don't have enough outpatient beds. what some clinicians I've talked to refer to as tune up centers," he says.
When officers respond to one of the 500 mental health calls a year the chief says, often, they don't know what they'll face.
"Is that altered mental status a psychological problem? Or is it physiological? Or are they diabetic and suffering from an altered mental status? Are they suffering from an altered mental status as a result of a head injury are they the victim of an assault that we're responding to who's now manifesting in a violent way because they have a closed head injury? It's incredibly complicated," he says.
Burlington's Police Chief says the breakdown in the system cannot be ignored.
"How much more of an initial, significant call for help can you make than jumping off a bridge into frigid Winooski river that night? We've just got to do a better job," he says.
The Chief says over the next six weeks the department will assess the effectiveness of having a trained mental health worker responding to calls.
If it is working, he says, the Burlington Police Department may hire another person as a crisis responder.
Saturday, March 8 2014 9:29 PM EST2014-03-09 02:29:17 GMT
A warning for pet owners in our region. Coyotes are on the prowl. A biologist in New Hampshire says he has received more than 10 calls recently, in the Keene, New Hampshire area, for a deer that was takenMore >>
Saturday, March 8 2014 9:21 PM EST2014-03-09 02:21:44 GMT
As spring approaches, many Vermont homeowners prepare to work on their houses - so they head to the Burlington Home Show. And many Vermont small business owners - with their products and services on displayMore >>
Many business owners at the Burlington Home Show say the new health care system in Vermont is helpful, but some say it's causing a real headache.More >>
Saturday, March 8 2014 8:07 PM EST2014-03-09 01:07:08 GMT
A rally at the State House in Montpelier Saturday. A passionate group of dozens of women, and men, assembled in front of the State House Saturday for the Women's March for Dignity. They were demandingMore >>
Women's March for Dignity say they are demanding lawmakers support paid sick day policies for all workers.More >>
Saturday, March 8 2014 10:21 AM EST2014-03-08 15:21:27 GMT
Two firefighters are recovering from minor injuries. They were injured while fighting a at the Bennett Farm on Route 15 on the Johnson-Cambridge town line. The fire started in a shed around 7:30 FridayMore >>
Two firefighters are recovering from minor injuries.More >>
Saturday, March 8 2014 10:20 AM EST2014-03-08 15:20:42 GMT
Friends are rallying around families who lost everything in an apartment building fire in St. Johnsbury. They immediately took to Facebook after hearing about this fire and started planning to collectMore >>
Friends are rallying around families who lost everything in an apartment building fire in St. Johnsbury.More >>
Saturday, March 8 2014 10:20 AM EST2014-03-08 15:20:05 GMT
Reporter: "What are some of the most common burn injuries that we see with kids coming into the hospital?" Jim Esdon, Dartmouth Hitchcock Injury Prevention Center: "This time of year, the glass frontedMore >>
We've had another cold week that's left homeowners cranking the heat. But what does that mean for kids' safety?More >>
Saturday, March 8 2014 10:19 AM EST2014-03-08 15:19:21 GMT
Armed with just two L rods, 87-year-old John Wayne Blassingame starts looking for water by asking yes or no questions. "Does it go past 20 feet, does it go past 30 feet, yah," he says. The rods crossingMore >>
A national organization based in Danville says it is providing resources to people in desperate need to find water.More >>
Saturday, March 8 2014 8:31 AM EST2014-03-08 13:31:36 GMT
The Governor is traveling to Rhode Island Saturday. His office says Governor Peter Shumlin will be at Brown University in Providence taking part in a forum with the Rhode Island Governor. While theMore >>
The Governor is traveling to Rhode Island Saturday. More >>