‘Saves lives’: Redmond funds police department’s mental health professional

VIDEO: Program pairing health professionals with police

REDMOND, Wash. — As activists call for defunding police in favor of establishing a new status quo, KIRO 7 learned agencies around Puget Sound are increasingly eyeing programs that partner officers with mental health professionals to respond to certain 911 calls.

“Given the current climate and the needs of our community, I’ve had multiple agencies reach out to me asking about co-responder models,” said Susie Kroll, Redmond Police Department’s mental health professional.

Since 2018, a grant has funded Kroll’s work with Redmond police, who responds with officers to 911 calls where social services are needed. The department said Kroll’s work has been so effective that it recently hired her full-time for the sole position that’s now budgeted.

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“Immediately offering deescalation and referral to services, and there’s a clinical eye at the same time so that we can make sure the referrals being made are appropriate for what I’m seeing in the field and what my partners are actually reporting as seeing as well,” said Kroll, who is not armed and always responds to calls alongside an officer. “Most of the calls that I go on don’t result in jail.”

Kroll said sometimes jail isn’t avoidable but she will still follow up with people in custody and after they have been released to make sure they’re connected to resources and getting the help they need.

“My whole goal is to make this the norm rather than the exception,” said Kroll. “It’s about finding quality, well trained individuals who have clinical expertise.”

Having mental health professionals work directly with officers to respond to certain calls isn’t a new idea but Kroll said these days she’s hearing from more local departments that want to establish similar models in their cities. KIRO 7 rode along with Kroll and her partner to calls last week on a day when the mental health professional said she had received several phone calls from interested agencies.

Last month, Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County said it wants to see unarmed counselors, like Susie, respond to crisis calls without police, at least initially. Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and other city leaders have said they’re on board.

“A call for help shouldn’t result in a person losing their life,” said Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County Board Member Jordan Compton, in a June interview with KIRO 7.

Kroll, who’s part of King County’s crisis negotiation team and also works with law enforcement agencies in Shoreline, Kirkland, Bothell, Lake Forest Park and Kenmore, said the partnership with officers is vital.

“I would not go to these calls by myself,” said Kroll. “I don’t think that’s appropriate and there’s numerous safety reasons why.”

Kroll said there are cases where she alone would not have been able to save someone without officers, who have access to law enforcement tools she does not. Redmond police credit Kroll with helping officers write more detailed reports that more clearly define what they’ve seen and behaviors, which can ultimately lead to that person being better connected to needed social services.

“I can only relate it to a really good choreographed dance,” said Kroll, who told KIRO 7 the current partner model works. “Saves lives, wholeheartedly.”