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Bernalillo County Rolls Out Mental Health Crisis Response Teams

Marisa Demarco / KUNM
Margarita Chavez, Bernalillo County's special projects coordinator for behavioral health

After officers shot and killed a man camping in the foothills of the Sandia Mountains in 2014, outcry over how Albuquerque police deal with people who have mental illness reached a fever pitch. More than three years later, Bernalillo County announced on Tuesday, May 23, that it’s rolling out long-promised teams of mental health experts to respond to crisis calls. 

People whose family members or loved ones are experiencing a mental health crisis sometimes fear calling law enforcement because of the Albuquerque Police Department’s history of violence and shootings in these situations.

Margarita Chavez, Bernalillo County’s special projects coordinator for behavioral health, says no matter how much special training the police get, "We do recognize that they’re still not behavioral health clinicians. We know that it’s not always the best resource for someone who's experiencing a behavioral health crisis to have an officer or a firefighter come to their house," she said.

Instead, teams of mental health professionals and police officers will respond together to the most serious mental health 911 calls. Funding for the teams comes in part from a gross receipts tax voters approved to address this issue. A mental health triage center that was also pitched as part of the tax plan has been back-burnered, Chavez says, because there are still so many gaps in behavioral health services after the shakeup a few years ago.

The county’s seeking clinicians who have master’s level training or higher to join the teams. 

Marisa Demarco began a career in radio at KUNM News in late 2013 and covered public health for much of her time at the station. During the pandemic, she is also the executive producer for Your NM Government and No More Normal, shows focused on the varied impacts of COVID-19 and community response, as well as racial and social justice. She joined Source New Mexico as editor-in-chief in 2021.
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