Sheriff calls for more mental health support

Published: Mar. 22, 2016 at 9:32 PM MST
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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - There have two recent cases this week in which law enforcement engaged with men who were mentally ill, prompting concern from the Pima County Sheriff about the current state of mental health care and support.

"We'd be having a much different conversation if he hurt or killed somebody or one of my deputies" said Sheriff Chris Nanos about the department's Wednesday encounter with Kyle Montgomery.

The week before, Montgomery ran from law enforcement on the northwest side near Interstate 10 and stabbed himself in the neck.

He was admitted to the hospital but not officially charged at the time, according to Quentin Mehr with the Department of Public Safety.

Deputies found him Wednesday when they responded to a call about a suspicious man in Picture Rocks.

They gave commands when they noticed he had a weapon, and they opened fire when he gestured towards him.

Montgomery suffered a gun shot wound to his right shoulder.

In the city of Tucson, Thomas Scott Mills, Jr. is being charged with terrorism after a standoff situation at a Tucson Police Department substation.

Nanos said his deputies had interacted with Mills before the incident.

Deputies handled approximately 12,000 calls with some sort of connection to mental illness last year, according to Sgt. Terry Staten, head of the MHST unit.

He said his team is unable to connect with as many individuals with mental illness as he would like.

Some people have multiple red flags from previous interactions with family, friends, neighbors, or even deputies, but Staten said they are not a priority for his team until they've had 4-5 issues.

Nanos said every deputy goes through an 8-hour training course in mental health first aid and awareness.

On top of that, members of the SWAT and MHST teams complete a 40-hour CRT certification.

Some deputies have volunteered to take the course as well, but Nanos said his goal is to have everyone certified.

With so many mental health calls, Nanos said he's considered adding more personnel to his mental health teams. He said he's hoping his counterparts on the health care provider side will do more as well.

"Because I'm overwhelmed, I can't just throw up my hands and turn around and walk away," he said. "And they shouldn't either."

Clarke Romans, Executive Director of NAMI of Southern Arizona said this region of the United States has tremendous resources and health care providers.

However, he said an issue that families and individuals face is what he calls "silo'd care", where various agencies do not communicate as well as they should.

"What we're missing in the community is this continuity of care," he said.

Romans said mental illness should have the same sort of follow ups and checkups that's expected in other illnesses like heart attacks and heart disease.

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