Increasingly, police officers are the first contact for social services. To help with that, the Crisis Assessment Response Team brings the Milwaukee Police Department together with the Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Division to response to mental health crises.
The first CART team was launched in 2013. It has since expanded to four teams, three cover the City of Milwaukee and one works throughout Milwaukee County.
"It is for everybody in the community," says Erin Quandt, licensed clinical social worker and CART clinician. "Anybody who is experiencing any kind of mental health crisis, we will come out, we will do on-scene assessments and really try figure out what is the best possible disposition for the folks we are working with."
Each CART team is made up of a police officer and a behavioral health clinician and their goal is to stabilize a person or situation within a safe environment, connect people directly with community mental health resources, and avoid involuntary hospitalization or detention.
Cassandra Libal is a lieutenant with the Milwaukee Police Department and a CART coordinator and trainer. She says when she first joined the force, mental health crisis encounters were not handled effectively: "When I came on in the '90s, there wasn't much. You either took the person out for treatment or sometimes unfortunately they would end up going to jail. And so we realized that was not the best outcome for them or for us as a community."
Libal adds, "We saw a lot of recurring calls, and so I think that's why CART became a brain child of the department and (Behavioral Health Division). We're responding to a lot of the same clients over and over again, sometimes those situations can escalate and injury can happen to either the officer or individual, so how can we better address this?"
Last year alone, CART responded to more than a 1,000 calls for service. Of the more than 600 direct interactions, about 89 percent of those calls were connected to resources voluntarily, according to the Behavioral Health Division.
Quandt says, "Talking to (these individuals) about the hospitals that can help them, giving them the options that they can go to - it gives people control of what's happening to themselves and that's what we look for. That's what we need - that's what they need."
Libal notes that this program allows both the police force and community members to get a greater education about mental health issues as well as the resources and limitations the police have in dealing with those situations.
"We're not unique in any way, shape or form, so understanding that this is not discriminatory - it hits all places - and taking that stigma out of it and being able to address people at a humane level [is important]," she add.
All officers are required to take Crisis Intervention Training, or CIT, but only a select few who are dedicated to the CART teams go through additional training in mental health crisis. Each CART officer is specifically assigned to mental health calls, not a general beat.
"Although, yes we are taking specific officers off the street to deal with this area, the volume of calls that they're able to address and mitigate for future officers is definitely worth the investment," Libal notes.
Quandt adds that CART has helped improve police-community relations: "One of the things that we say when we're working with somebody is, 'You're not in trouble. We're not going to arrest you, we're not going to take you off in handcuffs.' And they don't often hear that from a police officer all the time. So just that, in and of itself, creates rapport with somebody right away."
"The networking within the community has been great," Libal says. "Some of just those simple conversations, it's an epiphany moment for a lot of people."
If you are in a mental health crisis and need assistance, there are three CART teams on duty for the City of Milwaukee from 11a m - midnight, 7 days a week. The county CART team is available Monday-Friday from 10 am-6 pm. (414) 257-7222
If you have an emergency, call 911. For non-emergencies, contact the MPD at (414) 933-4444.