Involuntary commitment laws stricter in Washington state

by: Deborah Horne Updated:


SEATTLE, Wash. - What does it take to get treatment for someone who is mentally ill??

That question was asked Monday after the officer-involved shooting during the evening commute on I-5, two and a half weeks ago at Seattle Pacific University.

Two years ago, there was a shooting at the Cafe Racer coffee house in Seattle's Ravenna neighborhood.

In each case, a person with mental issues was at the center of a deadly attack.

"The law is very clear about being (an) imminent risk to self or others," said Kathleen Southwick, executive director of King County's 24 Hour Crisis Clinic. 

She said it is not easy to get someone committed in this state.

"There need to be safeguards on both sides, but perhaps the law is a bit strict," said Southwick.

"It is strict then?" KIRO 7's Deborah Horne asked.

"Yes, very strict," replied Southwick.

And very different in other states.

In Maryland, just about anyone can be examined for mental illness and hospitalized up to 30 hours. In Florida, under the “Baker Act,” a person must only ''possibly have a mental illness,” to be involuntarily committed.

Last year alone, volunteers fielded more than 100,000 calls at the King County 24 Hour Crisis Clinic.  That's up 20 percent over the last five years. It is, said Southwick, a resource for the desperate and those who care about them.

"You can call us at 2 a.m.," said Southwick. "You can call us at 4 a.m. We're always here to talk to you about alternatives and also to provide emotional support."

And beginning July 1, King County will begin a new program, providing two mobile mental-health vehicles to be deployed wherever they are needed.

Click here for more information about the Crisis Clinic in Seattle: