Citizens’ Police Academy 7: Kitsap Mental Health

This is the seventh of nine entries in a column about reporter Ethan Fowler’s participation in the Bainbridge Island Police Department’s Citizens’ Police Academy.

Breaking misconceptions and educating his audience about mental health issues were some of the things Kitsap Mental Health Services Crisis Response Team Supervisor Gary Clark achieved during his recent talk to participants in the Citizens’ Police Academy.

Clark, who has worked nine years with Kitsap Mental Health Services, said his department is responsible for detaining people diagnosed with mental health issues that pose a threat to public safety.

“We usually respond within 30 minutes of a call,” said Clark, who noted the state requires agencies respond within two hours. “We go to them generally, but we don’t go out at night or alone anymore. Most of our staff is women.”

Although it varies widely, Clark said that Kitsap Mental Health Services receive 150-175 phone calls on average monthly and have about 80 face-to-face meetings. Clark said mental health professionals typically see clients either in jail, hospitals or homes.

“Most of our attention is on what’s real and what’s the real cause,” Clark said. “Drugs or family incidents can provoke these kinds of illnesses and the more they take these drugs the slower they recover.”

Clark did note, however, to keep in mind that street drugs, trauma and urinary tract infections often can cause people to suddenly “masquerade” as if they have mental illness. Having “access to clear facts” is pivotal, he said, to preventing a misdiagnosis.

He said jails can verify whether some inmates are able to get medicine for their mental illness, “but it’s a very narrow definition because they’re not treatment centers.”

“There’s no pain relief and no sleep aids,” Clark said of prisons. “The focus is on safety, not on treatment.”

The criteria categories for mental health that Clark said he follows are:

  • Danger or likelihood of serious harm, either to self, others or property;
  • Mental disorder or severe impairment;
  • Least restrictive alternative.

He encourages people to call early and often when they have new facts in a case.

“Capturing a case by accumulating facts over time may be preferable to one-call leads to an immediate detention,” Clark stated in a handout he distributed about chronic mental illness and the law. “Multiple calls demonstrate (an) issue isn’t a single episode but is evolving.”

Bainbridge Islander, health, Police,

About Ethan Fowler

Ethan Fowler has more than 20 years of journalism experience with 19 years of daily and weekly newspaper experience covering news, features and sports, as well as being an editor for 14 of those years. He has won several writing awards over the years in Washington state, Virginia, Texas and Georgia, including award-winning investigative journalism. Fowler was paid by the Review & Herald Publishing Association in 2009 to co-author a book, "Brushed Back: The Story of Trevor Bullock," with his wife. The book details the real life of a top minor league pitcher in the Philadelphia Phillies organization and his Christian faith. "Brushed Back" has sold more than 2,000 copies since its release.