When law enforcement officers encounter someone who has not engaged in criminal behavior but has demonstrated that he or she is dangerously mentally ill, it is in the interests of that person and the community which the officer serves that the person be taken to a mental health crisis center.

At the moment, Wisconsin law officers have time-consuming restrictions on where such patients can be taken. But there’s an opportunity to change that, and we hope that both the state government and local hospitals seize the opportunity.

Police could take non-criminal but dangerous mentally ill patients to state mental health institutes in Madison or near Oskhosh, whichever is most convenient, under a proposed bill that has bipartisan support, the Wisconsin State Journal reported Dec. 31.

The measure would also allow hospitals to get state grants to become regional mental health crisis centers that could accept the patients.

In April 2014, the state shifted non-criminal patients requiring emergency detention to the Winnebago Mental Health Institute near Oshkosh and reserved Mendota primarily for criminal cases. Police and mental health advocates in Dane County and elsewhere say trips to Winnebago are costly, take officers away from patrol and disrupt the lives of patients and families.

“Given strapped resources at our law enforcement agencies, the amount of time required to transport someone in crisis to Winnebago is both a burden on law enforcement as well as the individual experiencing a crisis,” said a memo to lawmakers this month from five statewide law enforcement associations in support of the bill.

The bill, initiated by two Democratic legislators from Dane County and two Republicans from central Wisconsin, would do what an unsuccessful lawsuit by the City of Madison tried to do: require the state to let police take people in mental health crises to Mendota Mental Health Institute in Madison as allowed before 2014.

While the Madison-based State Journal report logically focused on the greater efficiency of letting Dane County law officers transport emergency detention patients to an in-county facility there, we were struck by the bind into which the 2014 state decision puts Racine County law officers: Whether a trip to Madison for criminal detentions or Oshkosh for emergency detentions, that’s a 4-hour round trip, at minimum, for one of our police officers or sheriff’s deputies.

So the aspect that has us enthusiastic is the proposed grants for developing regional mental health crisis centers. Given all of the facilities operated by Ascension, Aurora and United Hospital System in the Racine-Kenosha area, we see no reason why one of the area facilities couldn’t obtain a grant and establish itself as a regional center.

We want our law officers on duty within Racine County, not taking 4-plus hours out of a shift to transport someone in need of mental health care to a state-mandated facility. Especially when a facility within 40 miles of the station could be established as a regional destination for such patients.


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