By Cass Rains, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
Last year, Enid Police Department officers traveled more than 40,000 miles and spent more than 3,000 hours transporting individuals for evaluations at state mental health facilities.
EPD figures show officers made more than 150 transports to facilities approved by the commissioner of the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services for evaluation by a licensed mental health professional, as mandated by state law.
Such evaluations are required by law if a person is deemed a danger to themselves or others as a result of a mental health problem.
Studies show that more than 620,000 Oklahoma adults suffer from mental illness, according to the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.
It’s the law
State law requires officers take an individual into protective custody and detain a person they believe requires treatment, and request a licensed mental health professional conduct an emergency examination.
Once a person is taken into protective custody, they must be transported by law enforcement to a facility designated by the commissioner of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, as appropriate for an emergency examination.
While at the designated facility, a licensed mental health professional must conduct an emergency examination.
By law, the emergency examination must take place within 12 hours of the time law enforcement first took the person into protective custody. If the examination is not conducted within the 12-hour period, the person must be released and returned by officers to the place they were taken into protective custody, to their residence or another location.
The initial examination by the licensed mental health professional determines if the individual brought to the facility by law enforcement officers requires treatment, such that an emergency order of detention (EOD) is warranted.
If the mental health professional does not believe the person is a danger to himself, herself or others as the result of a mental illness, the person must be released and returned by law enforcement to the place where he or she was taken into protective custody, to a residence or another location.
If after the emergency examination the mental health professional believes the person is a danger to himself, herself or others, the person must be placed in emergency detention.
If the facility where the emergency examination was conducted is not a facility designated by the state, law enforcement must transport the person to the facility.
Enid Police Department
Capt. Jack Morris said last year officers went on 188 EOD transports, an average of about 3.5 trips a week.
“It’s not uncommon for us to do six a week,” he said. “It’s not uncommon for us to do three in a day. It varies.”
Last year, officers for the department traveled 41,504 miles for EOD transports, with an average trip of about 220 miles. Officers spent about 3,008 hours on EODs, which includes time for evaluations, resulting in a “low average” of about $66,176 spent for officers’ wages.
“It takes two officers to go on those transports,” Morris said. “A lot of times we’re having to pay officers overtime.”
He said the department only is reimbursed for mileage on EOD transports at a rate of 55 cents a mile. Last year, the department received $23,034 for fuel. However, tracking mileage also requires work.
“We have to keep records of where we go and there are certain forms we turn in to get that reimbursement,” Morris said.
Another hurdle the department faces is meeting contract-required minimum staffing levels. Officers cannot be sent out on a transport until staffing levels are met.
“Obviously, we do it,” Morris said of the transports. “We want people to get help, but it is very taxing.”
Chief Brian O’Rourke said conducting EOD transports are an unexpected cost many departments face.
“This is an issue all across the state, where police and sheriff departments have to make these transports at great costs for overtime,” he said. “I have spoken with many chiefs about this issue and all have issues with the way that the statutes direct this to be handled. It is a huge drain on a budget, as it is unexpected emergency expenditures.”
O’Rourke said transports for his department often require paying overtime to officers.
“EOD transports, for the EPD, is an unfunded mandate by the state that requires us to transport persons in distress all across the state,” O’Rourke said. “We have to rely on calling back officers on their days off for those who have already worked their shift to accomplish the transport.”
Garfield County Sheriff’s Office
Sheriff Jerry Niles said his department averages about a dozen EOD transports a year, in addition to hundreds of trips made by deputies transporting inmates to other counties for court, to doctor’s appointments or to DOC facilities.
“In the last three months we have seen an increase,” he said. “We’ve already had three for this month.”
Conducting an evaluation and transport for an EOD usually ties up a deputy for an entire day, Niles said.
“We usually send one deputy on an EOD transport, unless there are extenuating circumstance,” he said. “If we start these transports at night, it slows down our response time in providing services to the people of Garfield County.”
Even without EOD transports, Niles said his office is at its limits.
“Our biggest thing is, even with full staff we’re not staffed for all the missions we have,” he said. “Any given day of the week, I have three to five deputies on the road, transporting prisoners or transporting juveniles. It’s non-stop.”
Niles said the distance deputies drive for EOD transports has increased.
“For years we’d always gone to Western State (Psychiatric Center) in Fort Supply,” the sheriff said. “A lot of times it’s full.”
Niles said deputies responded to a call one January morning and determined a woman needed to be evaluated. Deputies arrived with the woman at Northwest Behavioral Center at 7:20 a.m.
“We had two deputies with her for almost an hour and another deputy with her until 2:18 p.m. until they found a bed,” Niles said. “My transport deputy got home about 8 p.m. and had to drive her to Ardmore.
“Basically, someone was tied up with this individual for almost 13 hours.”
Niles said it’s up to ODMHSAS to find beds for those placed under emergency detention.
“Traditionally, we spend anywhere from three to five hours either at the hospital or Northwest Behavioral before we even get on the road, if we even get on the road,” Niles said.
Seeking a solution
O’Rourke and Niles said their departments will continue to do what is asked of them, as far as EODs are concerned; however a change is needed to make department’s whole.
“There needs to be a change in the statutes,” O’Rourke said. “These transports are taxing to the officers and deputies and municipal police and county budgets as they are unexpected and numerous.
“These events are not something you can budget for.”
O’Rourke cited the distances officers were traveling across the state to take individuals to approved sites.
“It is ridiculous that we transport to Muskogee and other areas remote from Enid, and just receive mileage back from the state,” he said. “We have had officers from Enid pass each other on the turnpikes coming and going from mental health facilities on transports.
“I know that we will do what is required by statute, at great cost to us, and hope the state Legislature will address this soon.”
Niles also said legislative intervention in the issue also could help save Oklahomans money.
“Jails and prisons in Oklahoma are the biggest housers of mentally ill persons,” Niles said. “The state Legislature needs to fund the mental health issue and provide long-term care, if necessary.
“The county jails and prisons are a more costly means of dealing with the mentally ill.”
Rep. John Enns, R-Enid, said there has been talk before of getting law enforcement reimbursed for EODs, but there are problems getting the idea support.
“We’ve tried to address that before, and from what I remember, we can’t get much traction on it,” Enns said.
He said he would support legislation that would help law enforcement agencies defray the costs of transports.
“The Department of Corrections and public safety, that is all core service and I think it ought to be funded properly, because it is trying to keep everybody safe,” Enns said.
Rep. Mike Jackson, also R-Enid, said finding funding always has been difficult with so many state entities and agencies seeking money.
A call to ODMHSAS media relations Friday for comment on this story was not returned.