Madison Police Department Introduces Team Of ‘Mental Health Officers’

Team Formed To Respond To, And Prevent, Mental Health Crises

Madison Police Chief Michael Koval. Photo: Gilman Halsted/WPR.

The Madison Police Department has created a new team of “mental health officers” to respond to incidents that involve people with a mental illness.

Madison Police Chief Michael Koval said the five officers on the team will not only respond to calls for crisis intervention, but will also work closely with mental health service agencies to try to prevent a crisis before it happens.

“I believe that we will be able to provide a sort of a gap-saving mechanism for a lot of families and friends who have found that their loved ones have fallen through the cracks — who have found that somewhere along the line the mental health system has failed them,” said Koval.

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Koval said the initiative comes in response to incidents like one in May, in which Madison police officers shot and killed a mentally ill man who had attacked and killed two of his neighbors before police arrived on the scene. He said he’s taken the initiative to create the team because city, state and county officials have been unwilling to create and fund a more comprehensive response to dealing with people suffering from mental illness.

“I’m tired of the delay of discounting, minimizing and rationalizing,” said Koval. “This department is going to stand up and at least try to make a valiant effort to do more.”

Officers on the team will work with mental health providers in the city to develop intervention plans with the families and friends of people who may be on the cusp of a violent crisis.

In Milwaukee, Mayor Tom Barrett has pledged to spend a million dollars on training more police officers to deal with people in the midst of a mental health crisis.