DETROIT (WXYZ) — “Kiazia Miller, Porter Burkes, those aren’t just anomalies, they happen all the time,” said Alexandria Hughes, community mental health activist.
Alexandria Hughes is a mental health activist in Detroit who has spent the year holding rallies calling for a third-party mental health response team in Detroit.
She told me her passion is fueled by close friends who struggle with mental health and feel more triggered when police respond to help.
“Not having those resources or knowing where to go or feeling like the resource was the people who harmed my friend were the resource was the people who harmed my friend,” Hughes said.
“It’s scary, seeing that every day is scary.”
Dr. Gerald Sheiner, a psychiatrist at Sinai-Grace Hospital and professor at Wayne State University, backs Hughes up.
“Mental health care is at a crisis state in our city and across the country,” said Dr. Gerald Shiener, psychiatrist at Sinai-Grace Hospital, professor at Wayne State University.
Dr. Sheiner responds to mental health patients at the hospital and says when those patients are having their worst moments – the presence of weapons or intimidating personnel often makes the situation worse.
“Patients who experience those type of difficulties are often frightened and think that everyone else is out to do them harm,” Dr. Sheiner revealed.
“Mental health professionals are the best fit personnel to respond to a mental health crisis, but mental health professionals are not available,” Dr. Sheiner said.
With the lack of a mental health response team, Detroit police have been responding to the uptick in mental health calls.
According to DPD data, Detroit police officers have responded to nearly 4,300 mental health calls this year, more than 1,000 involved violent offenders.
What’s more, the department is responding to an average of 64 mental health runs per day, more than three times as many as in 2020.
“That’s a lot. I feel like that’s further research to show that we just need more resources for mental health,” 7 Action News’ Sarah Grimmer said to Dr. Sheiner.
“64 calls a day is beyond the ability of emergency services to care for in many instances,” said Dr. Sheiner.
Now, change may finally be coming.
DPD has been partnering with the Detroit Wayne Integrated Crisis Intervention Team for crisis intervention training, but now they are also listening to activists like Hughes and working with Detroit councilwoman Gabriela Santiago-Romero to create a non-police response program to address non-violent mental health calls.
“The reality is that our police have seen an increase in mental health calls since the beginning of the pandemic. 50-60% of these calls are non-violent, meaning our police are responding to a call that a mental health provider could be addressing ,” said Gabriela Santiago-Romero, Detroit City Council Member.
Santiago-Romero says the task force will be similar to Denver’s Support Team Assisted Response (STAR) program or Portland’s Street Response program.
The STAR program deploys emergency medical technicians and behavioral health clinicians to engage people who are experiencing distress related to mental health, poverty and more.
“I think that a straight up mental health response presents someone to intervene who is less threatening to a patient and someone who intervenes who has more experience dealing with a patient in crisis,” said Dr. Sheiner.
Studies following the Denver STAR program found that neighborhoods with it found a 34% decrease in low level crime.
It’s promising data and hopefully improvement that Detroit will be able to mirror.
Mental health activist Alexandria Hughes says she’ll be watching.
“I don’t think it’s the end all be all solution, but I would say it’s the start of what we should have,” Hughes said.