KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Emergency responders in Kalamazoo County will be getting more help to respond to calls involving mental illness.

Integrated Services of Kalamazoo was awarded a $550,000 federal grant to pay for a Police-Mental Health Collaboration.

Lindsey O’Neil, a program supervisor for ISK who works in the corrections and recovery unit, said the PMHC will improve public safety responses and outcomes. She said emergency response organizations across the county proposed launching it.

“Many of the local law enforcement leadership approached ISK and asked if we could partner and start working on collaborations on responding to calls for service that were more mental health in nature,” O’Neil said in an interview from the WOOD TV8 Digital Live Desk. “We took some time and looked at some initial data that really showed that our community really had a significant amount of calls coming into our 911 and dispatch center that were mental health in nature or crisis-related and so we determined that there was a partnership that could be created with that.”

She said data shows that in 2019-2020, Kalamazoo County Consolidated Dispatch got 30,000 that appeared to involve a mental health crisis.

Around the same time ISK decided to pursue a PMHC, the U.S. Bureau of Justice Assistance released grants through the Connect and Protect: Law Enforcement Behavioral Health Responses program. ISK applied for one and got it.

The new PMHC will create a “cross-system crisis response model” that sets up clear procedures for responding to mental health calls. Emergency mental health staff will help de-escalate situations involving someone in crisis and work to get them help going forward.

Partners on the project include the Kalamazoo County Sheriff’s Office and police or public safety agencies from Kalamazoo, Portage, Vicksburg, Richland, Augusta, Schoolcraft, Kalamazoo Township, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo Valley Community College and consolidated dispatch.

“Every single law enforcement agency in our county is involved in this in one way or another,” O’Neil said.

ISK added that officers already refer people to ISK after substance abuse calls, that ISK already has a phone number police can call to get to a mental health clinician, that ISK staff go on ride-alongs and that it has a partnership with the sheriff’s department on jail diversion programs.