Austin Moore: And I’m Austin Moore in Payne
County, where departments like the Stillwater police are also feeling the cost of mental
illness. Norm McNickle is the past president of the Oklahoma Association of Chiefs of Police
and Stillwater’s director of public safety. Norm McNickle: Resolving issues with persons
who are seriously mentally ill, it is enormous. It impacts the state of Oklahoma to the extent
$3 to $5 million a year that is spent simply transporting people around the state for treatment.
As one example, in the city of Stillwater last year, 187 transports. That’s not the
number of calls that we answered about someone that was, that was having mental health issues.
That’s the number of people that were actually determined to be in need of treatment and
that were transported to a facility somewhere in the state of Oklahoma.
Austin: It isn’t simply the nearest facility either. With options as far flung as Fort
Supply, Ada, McAlester and Vinita, the patient will go to the first available bed.
McNickle: They’re handcuffed. Frequently there’s a belly-chain that connects the handcuffs
to their waist. Leg irons if they’re resistive. A helmet if they’re banging their head against
the windows or the screen partition of the unit. Spit masks. And they travel that way
anywhere from two to six hours depending on where in the state there’s an open bed. And
that just can’t be good for them. And it can’t be good for the future of them seeking help
from law enforcement once they’ve been given that kind of treatment. And it’s done that
way to prevent them from injuring themselves, from injuring the officers, and so they can’t
jump out of the car. Austin: McNickle says this is also taxing
on the resources and budgets of local law enforcement.
McNickle: A vast majority of 400 law enforcement agencies in the state of Oklahoma are very,
very small. So they don’t have the resources, monetarily or from staffing perspective, to
easily handle this situation. So oftentimes their, their town goes uncovered – there’s
no law enforcement in town while they perform these duties.
Austin: Now, according to McNickle, each case can easily take eight to 16 hours of an officer’s
time, and when a psychiatric hospital bed is not immediately available, much, much more.
Rob: All right, thank you so much, Austin. Austin: You’re welcome, Rob.