Flint, MI— This week, Genesee County voters passed a $9.5 million community mental health millage that will provide law enforcement with more services to address mental health crisis calls. 

Chief Terence Green of the Flint Police Department said he hopes the additional resources will allow his already tapped officers to focus more on criminal activity. 

“That’s the goal, is to free police officers up from responding as mental experts when we’re not,” Green said. 

Around $3.7 million of the millage dollars will provide crisis intervention training to police officers and will also create a “co-response” partnership between Genesee Health System and local departments. This is to allow mental health professionals to accompany officers on 911 calls where they can assess the individual for treatment needs, and provide safe, crisis de-escalation. 

Green said the Flint Police Department receives mental health calls daily. 

“So, we have a variety of those types of calls. Some of the mental calls we receive are from what we call ‘regulars,’ those that we’re familiar with. And then there’s some where officers show up on scene and discover that this some type of mental episode. But it happens frequently,” Green said. 

The idea is that having a mental health expert onsite will reduce the time it takes for police to handle the situation and get individuals the help they need.

“I think we can relieve the pressure of those calls that are, and I won’t say nuisance, I think, to a law enforcement officer, they might seem like a nuisance call because it’s not criminal activity. It is somebody creating a disturbance or being disruptive. And it’s not a police issue, but there’s no one else available to help them with that,” CEO of GHS Danis Russell said.

The millage passed marginally, with 54% of the vote. It will renew each year for the next 10 years. 

In addition to crisis training and on-call mental health experts, approximately $3 million of the millage dollars will funneled into a crisis center which will provide triage, assessment and stabilization services in a location other than a jail or a hospital. 

“Right now, if they pick up somebody and it’s not criminal activity, if they take them to an emergency department, usually that officer has to stay with that individual until they can be seen in the emergency department. That’s a significant waste of law enforcement time. Obviously, we’re hoping that the crisis center can greatly reduce that waiting time. The individual will be dropped off, and then the officers can get back to the job,” Russell said. 

Whether police can leave the scene is situationally dependent, Green said. If the individual is violent, an officer’s presence will still be necessary. 

The Genesee Health System levied the millage to secure “unrestricted” funding in order meet the county’s unique mental health needs. 

GHS receives most of its funding from Medicaid, which has strict regulations concerning what mental and behavioral health services are eligible for funding, Russell said.

“We were just seeing a lot of needs in the community that were legitimate, serious needs but they did not meet the medical necessity threshold,” Russell said. 

The millage dollars will also support court and corrections mental health support and services.

“I think that our goal is that the community will be safer and police and law enforcement will have training on how to deal with issues that aren’t necessarily criminal activity….We’re very grateful and want to thank the community for the support. I know, it wasn’t a landslide win, and almost half of the people who voted, voted ‘no.’ I hope that eventually, even if you don’t want to pay the additional tax, you’ll see that this money is being used to make the community better,” Russell said.

Carmen Nesbitt is a journalist with diverse experience in news reporting and feature writing. She wrote for Hour Detroit and SEEN Magazine before joining the Flint Beat news team as an education and public...