© 2024 University of Missouri - KBIA
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Columbia leaders urge police chief to begin mental health 911 dispatch plan

Columbia Police Chief Jill Schlude taking the oath of office.
Devon Bidjou
Columbia Missourian
Columbia Police Chief Jill Schlude, shown taking the oath of office late last year, is being urged by City Council members to act quicker in adopting a program in which mental health professionals accompany police on certain 911 calls.

City leaders are urging Columbia Police Chief Jill Schlude to speed up the implementation of a plan to have mental health professionals accompany officers on 911 calls with suicidal subjects.

"What I'd like to have y'all do is realize the urgency of getting this moving," Sixth Ward Councilperson Betsy Peters told Schlude during a City Council meeting late Monday.

Peters' comments came after the city has been criticized by some residents for its four-year delay in implementing a program that aims to prevent suicides and officer-involved shootings.

Earlier this month, the Missourian published a story about the family of Marquis Rivera, 22, who was shot and killed by police in August after officers responded to a suicidal subject 911 call in south Columbia. Rivera's relatives said in interviews that they believed he would still be alive if the city had moved quicker on the mental health co-responder plan.

"There's all these moving parts, but what we don't have is anyone helping our police officers and ultimately helping the citizens that really need different help," Peters told Schlude.

Schlude, who was speaking after council members asked for an update about the co-responder plan at the end of a five-hour council meeting, explained that part of the reason for the delay was that her department needed to coordinate with many other organizations to get the program going. Those organizations include the Columbia Fire Department, public health officials, Boone County Join Communications, the state's 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline and crisis services at Burrell Behavioral Health.

"The conversion has morphed from ... 'let's put people in a car with police and then we'll go out,'" Schlude said. "We're having conversations about what it would look like if we did it all together."

The chief also explained that it was necessary to "press the pause button" because it didn't make sense for trained mental health professionals to spend entire shifts riding with patrol officers.

"Right now, just putting somebody in a car with some random police officer, who knows what calls they're going end up with?" Schlude said. "That person may not have one (of) those (mental health) calls all day."

She added that a potentially better option might be for mental health professionals to be dispatched to certain 911 calls on an as-needed basis, much like police, firefighters and paramedics are currently dispatched.

Mayor Barbara Buffaloe agreed with Peters that the city needs to move faster on the issue.

Four years ago, City Council earmarked more than $600,000 to develop a public safety mental health collaboration. But requests for proposals weren't opened until May 2023.

A contract is currently being negotiated with Burrell Behavioral Health.

"We do also run the risk of paralysis by analysis, where we spend too much time planning for something," Buffaloe told Schlude, adding that she would like to see the police department at least get started on a pilot program.

The mayor also offered to help speed up the communication among the various agencies.

"I'm happy to use my ... bully pulpit, and call those people together and be like, 'no, really show up and tell us everything,'" Buffaloe said. "So, just let me know if you need that."

Schlude, who was named police chief late last year, ended her comments by saying: "It's definitely on front burner."

The Columbia Missourian is a community news organization managed by professional editors and staffed by Missouri School of Journalism students who do the reporting, design, copy editing, information graphics, photography and multimedia.
Related Content