Public safety officials work to address mental illness in Indianapolis

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Nov. 25, 2014) – Indianapolis Public Safety officials and several partners are working to address the problem of mental illness in some of the city’s toughest neighborhoods.

The effort is part of the Public Safety Department’s ongoing effort to study and change the root causes of crime in six targeted areas. The targeted neighborhoods are located in the areas of 16th and Tibbs, 29th and MLK, 34th and Illinois, 38th and Sherman, 42nd and Post, and New York and Sherman.

While the six neighborhoods account for less than 5 percent of the city’s population, they account for nearly 15 percent of the city’s mental illness emergency calls.

“This is not just a law enforcement issue,” Riggs told FOX59. “It’s not just a public safety issue. “It’s a community issue and we have have to work together as a community to find solutions.”

Police officers often encounter mentally ill residents who commit crimes because they aren’t getting the necessary medications or other treatment they need.

According to the Marion County Sheriff’s Office, many of those offenders end up in one of their two jails even though they should be getting treatment somewhere else.

“We house about 2,300 inmates on any given day,” said Lt. Col. Louis Dezelan. “And on the average, about one third of those individuals are formally classified as mentally ill.”

While the jail is able to care for mentally ill inmates on a short term basis, the annual cost to the county is high.

Medications for inmates cost $640,000. Paying healthcare professionals to address inmates’ needs costs $5 million. Extra deputies for round-the-clock, and often one-on-one security cost $2.1 million. The total cost is over $7.7 million a year.

And without the long term care they need, many of those same inmates end up back in the jail several times a year. In some cases, mentally ill inmates have been arrested and jailed eight times in a two-year period.

“Unfortunately, we’re not a hospital,” Dezelan said. “And when the court says they should be released, they’re released like anyone else back out into the community.”

Dezelan says the situation has been getting worse as more state mental hospitals have been closed in recent decades.

The Public Safety task force is now studying the issue the same way they’re addressing things like education, availability of jobs and other factors that contribute to crime.

Possible solutions could include more Crisis Intervention Training for police officers who respond to emergency calls. Such training can help officers identify mental illness in offenders.

“And the real value of that is to avoid band-aiding a problem where mental illness is concerned,” said IMPD Assistant Chief James Waters. “And actually provide treatment for those who are suffering mental illness.”

The plan will likely include more outreach from area care providers to schools and parents, hoping to identify early warning signs of mental illness in children.

“Young people who grow up seeing violence in their home, young people who grow up malnourished,” Riggs said. “All those are real things that happen in big cities, and we’re a big city. We need to be aware of that.”

Partners working on the project are now looking over the information presented by the Marion County Sheriffs Department. They hope to have an action plan ready for the early part of 2015.