Lawmakers push to create new crisis center aimed at diverting the mentally ill from jail

Lawmakers push to create new crisis center aimed at diverting the mentally ill from jail
The Honolulu Police Department set up a memorial at its headquarters for fallen Officers Tiffany Enriquez and Kaulike Kalama. (Source: Hawaii News Now/file)

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - A group of lawmakers is pushing to create a new crisis center on Oahu that would be designed to help those in mental health crisis.

Instead of sending the mentally ill to jail for petty crimes, officers would have the option of taking them to the specialized clinic to have them checked out by a physician instead.

For years, Hawaii’s had a severe shortage of mental health resources.

It’s a problem that was thrust into the spotlight last month when a man with a history of mental illness gunned down two officers during a violent rampage at Diamond Head.

The bill is dubbed Tiffany and Kaulike’s Law in memory of the fallen officers and would allow the creation of crisis intervention officers ― a new kind of first responder who is specially trained to handle calls involving people in mental health crisis.

“We want to be able to speed up the process and allow our officers to make that determination if they need observation so that we can take them right in,” said HPD Chief Susan Ballard.

“What we currently have to do is call up the psychologist. Talk to them on the phone.

"If we don’t get them right away, we have this person over here that might be a little out of control so it’s a danger to the officers as well as to other people in the community.”

The goal is to divert people away from the criminal justice system and provide access to treatment.

The Queen’s Health System testified it supports of a crisis center, but added it needs to be made available to anyone who’s mentally ill not just those who are suicidal or threatening to hurt others.

Right now, the bill says the program is for people who are “an imminent danger to self or others.”

The majority of people who suffer from mental illness don’t meet that criteria. On Thursday, the bill passed its second reading in the Human Services and Homeless Committee.

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