Attorney General Opens Summit on Emergency Detention

Attorney General Josh Kaul will open the Attorney General’s Summit on Emergency Detention today, bringing together legislators, law enforcement, medical professionals, state agencies (including DHS), counties, and others to discuss the emergency detention process in the state of Wisconsin.  

In an interview with The Wheeler Report, Kaul said, “One of the issues I’ve heard most about from law enforcement across the state is the emergency detention issue.  The reason is that the system we have in place right now is really burdensome on law enforcement agencies. The reason for that is there is only one state facility where people can be transported to when an emergency detention happens and that’s in Winnebago county. There are a few counties that have county facilities so that’s an option, but there are officers from across the state who are traveling long distances for these emergency detentions. That’s not in the interest of the officers.  It’s not in the interest of public safety because it means the officer is not in our communities, and it is not in the interest of the people who are going through a mental health crisis. What we want to do is bring people together from different parts of the state who are impacted in different ways, so we can work to develop solutions.  I think there are big picture issues that are important to talk about, but also figuring out ways that smaller changes might be able to be made to at least help alleviate the burden on law enforcement agencies.”

Kaul stated there are two “big picture” goals for the summit 1.) sharing ideas and best practices, and 2.) talking though legislative changes that may need to be made. Kaul did not commit to any proposals or ideas he wants to see addressed by the legislature, but insisted he wanted to see what ideas and possibilities came out of the summit emphasizing legislators and agency personnel have been invited to attend and be part of the conversation. Kaul said “Ultimately the core of the problem is a matter of changing policies at departments.  Two issues have come up, one is the transport time, and that is a function of the availability of where people can be transported. Providing more options in that respect requires a legislative solution. The second area…is figuring out how the clearance process can be made consistent.”

In Wisconsin, an individual may be placed under emergency detention when they meet all of the following criteria:

  1. Are mentally ill, drug dependent, or developmentally disabled.
  2. Are a potential harm to themselves or others (defined by Wis. Stat §51.15).
  3. Are reasonably believed to be unable or unwilling to cooperate with voluntary treatment.

Once a person is in custody, the individual must be evaluated, and a determination made as to whether the individual meets the criteria for an emergency detention. If the individual is in a hospital’s emergency department, a medical staff member who is treating the individual will make the determination and communicate that to the law enforcement. For a county health a department, a physician must perform a crisis assessment to determine if the individual needs an emergency detention.  If it is determined that an individual is eligible for an emergency detention the individual must be transferred to a state treatment facility.  In most cases, that means law enforcement transporting the individual to Winnebago State Mental Health facility in Oshkosh.

Law enforcement officials across the state have said emergency detentions – both the medical clearance and the transports – are putting a strain on the departments.  In some cases, it requires officers to be on site for the medical clearance and then those same officers driving to Oshkosh and back.  While some departments use two officers for transport as a best practice, other departments transport with one officer because they do not have the resources for two.

The Department of Justice just completed a survey of 354 police chiefs and sheriffs.  The survey showed:

  • 73.2% are very concerned about the impact of emergency detention transports on their agencies.
  • 78.5% believe emergency detention incidents impact staffing levels.
  • 44.6% believe emergency detention incidents impact agency budgets.
  • 42.1% believe emergency detention incidents impact officer safety.

The survey showed that chiefs and sheriffs have serious concerns about:

  • Availability of staff to complete transport.
  • The distance to facilities.
  • The number of facilities available.
  • The number of available beds.

Those surveyed also expressed significant concerns about:

  • Requirements for medical clearance.
  • Lack of consistency in the medical clearance process.
  • Requirements for county department approval.
  • Blood testing for drugs/alcohol.
  • Safety to the individual in crisis.
  • Ability of the individual to get home after the detention.

Chiefs and sheriffs were also given the option to offer options to improve the handling of emergency detention incidents.  The proposals included:

  • Non law enforcement transport options (ambulance, mental health workers)
  • Mental health crisis teams to ride with law enforcement during transport.
  • Standardizing the process for medical clearances across hospitals.
  • Changes to requirements that the county approves detention.
  • Contracts to allow for out of state facilities (especially border communities).
  • Making additional facilities available.
  • County/statewide designated vehicles to share for transports.
  • Regional shared transport