By SCOTT LEVESQUE
Anchorage will have an unarmed crisis team that will handle mental health crisis calls within the Municipality during the fiscal year that begins Jan. 1,
On Tuesday, the Anchorage Assembly passed the 2021 budget, which included $1.5 million for a new Mental Health First Responders team. The Mobile Crisis Team will consist of specialized first responders tasked with aiding the Anchorage Police Department by responding to a portion of the 7,300 mental health crisis calls received each year.
The purpose of the group will be to de-escalate crises, stabilize individuals in crisis, and refer or connect them to services. The team will do triage and assessment in a one-hour response time.
According to a Twitter thread from Assembly member Dunbar, the team will consist of mental health specialists, paramedics, case managers, and peer staff.
Many Anchorage residents first learned of a potential mental health responder team in late October when Assembly member Chris Constant responded to a Twitter message highlighting San Francisco’s new unarmed mental health teams. He revealed that such a team was in the works for Anchorage.
The City of Denver also recently deployed a similar team in June called Support Team Assisted Response, which has responded to over 600 calls, mostly dealing with homelessness, mental illness, and substance abuse – no criminal activity. The STAR programs sends mental health workers and paramedics, rather than police, to respond to calls that don’t involve crimes, with about 10 percent of calls coming from Denver Police Department or Emergency Medical Services.
Anchorage already has community safety patrol and patrol van dispatched by the Anchorage Fire Department Call Center to help people who that appear to be incapacitated by alcohol or drugs. When not on a dispatch call from the fire department, the van patrols the Anchorage Downtown and Midtown areas in search of persons that may be in need of assistance. People can be taken into protective custody, evaluated, and transported to a hospital for further care.
Those skeptical about the new crisis team initiative focus their concerns on a lack of clarity on policies and procedures, such as:
- Which emergency calls fall under the MCT scope?
- Who decides if the MCT or police will respond?
- What happens if the situation escalates?
- Will the MCT have an assigned officer to accompany them?
- How will the team handle multiple calls concurrently?
The team will work out of the Anchorage Fire Department, and revenue from the alcohol tax, approved in April, is funding the new initiative.
The budget also awarded $93,500 to the library from the alcohol tax, with the justification that literacy will keep people out of prison.