(Updated at 4:15 p.m.) The clinician who participated in an initial mental health call at a McLean house in early July wasn’t present for a subsequent call that concluded in a fatal shooting because he was doing paperwork, Fairfax County Police Chief Kevin Davis said today (Thursday).
The Fairfax County Police Department currently has just one mental health clinician available to accompany officers on calls for mental and behavioral health crises as part of the county’s still-new co-responder program, according to Davis.
During the July 7 encounter, as shown by newly released audio and video footage, two officers deployed electronic control weapons, and a third — identified in the updated news release as Police Officer First Class Edward George, a 10-year veteran — fired his gun, shooting and killing 26-year-old Jasper Aaron Lynch.
All three officers had received crisis intervention training, but the co-responder clinician who joined them on the first call to the scene in the 6900 block of Arbor Lane was absent when the team was called back.
“That clinician had moved on to another location at the conclusion of his tour of duty to complete some administrative paperwork,” Davis said. “That’s the only reason why the clinician was not in a place where he was able to respond with us to the second call for service.”
With the current budget that took effect on July 1, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved funding to permanently expand the co-responder program, which was introduced as a pilot in spring 2021.
According to Davis, the program will advance to the second of four phases with the addition of another clinician on Monday (Aug. 8). The FCPD will ultimately have 16 clinicians riding along with officers, with about eight on duty at any given time.
Even at full force, co-responder teams will only be able to address a fraction of the thousands of mental health-related calls that come through 911. In 2022 so far, the FCPD has responded to 6,700 calls for service — or about 33 calls per day — for persons in mental or behavioral health crisis, Davis said.
Davis noted that the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has been simplified to 988, offering an alternative to calling the police for situations where someone is in crisis.
“[The co-responder model] is not a silver bullet,” Davis said. “I think it’s our responsibility, both law enforcement and even local media, to manage expectations. It certainly will result in many more better outcomes for people in crisis.”
For the most part, the 911 call and body-worn camera video released today align with the FCPD’s preliminary account of the events leading up to Lynch’s death. Read More
(Updated at 12:05 p.m. on 9/30/2021) Fairfax County will resume an effort today (Wednesday) to avoid arresting people in mental health crises by using behavioral health experts in the hopes of eventually putting the service into effect 24/7.
Pairing a crisis intervention specialist with specially trained police officers, the “co-responder” teams address 911 calls related to behavioral health issues for the resumed service, a micropilot program that’s expected to be in place three days a week.
“Over time, we’re going to have a better sense of handling these types of calls, and we might get to a place where we don’t have to have both behavioral health and police at the same time,” said Lee District Supervisor Rodney Lusk, chair of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors’ Public Safety Committee.
The county initially tested the approach for over a month this past March with teams working in eight-hour shifts Wednesdays through Fridays, ultimately diverting 40% of incidents from potential arrest or hospitalization.
One such case involved a family situation between siblings, where an autistic man assaulted his adult sister, said Abbey May, emergency and crisis services director for the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board (CSB), which provides multiple mobile emergency response services, among other health supports.
“She had locked herself in the bathroom and reported her brother had slipped a knife under the door to intimidate her,” May said.
A co-responder team gathered critical information from talking to the woman, asking what calms her brother down and what makes him upset. The responders explained that they were there to help.
“They were able to successfully de-escalate the situation without the use of force, incarceration, or hospitalization,” May told the Board of Supervisors yesterday (Tuesday) at its public safety committee meeting.
To support the resumed micropilot program, the CSB is reallocating one of its two Mobile Crisis Units. The pairings with police will continue on a limited basis, and it’s unclear how long the initiative will last this time, but it could serve as a bridge to an expanded service, said Lisa Potter, director of the county’s Diversion First program.
Named after high school biology teacher Marcus-David Peters, who was killed by a police officer while experiencing a mental health crisis in 2018, the statewide system is designed to ensure behavioral health experts are involved in emergency responses related to mental health and substance use issues.
According to Lauren Cunningham, communications director for the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, the law requires every local CSB to establish either a mobile crisis team or a community care team by July 1, 2026, though as the state’s most populous locality, Fairfax County must have its program set up by July 1, 2023.
As defined by the bill, a mobile crisis team can consist of one or more qualified or licensed mental health professionals, including peer recovery specialists and family support partner, but it explicitly does not involve law enforcement, Cunningham says.
Community care teams, on the other hand, are composed of mental health service providers and can include law enforcement officers. A co-responder model like the one Fairfax County is developing would fall under this approach.
Fairfax County could use its American Rescue Plan Act money to fund an expansion of the micropilot. County leaders have identified a multi-pronged approach that includes having an officer and crisis intervention specialist travel and respond together in teams that would each cover two police districts.
The $4 million ARPA-funded proposal would create four co-responder teams in the field and cover 26 positions — which would include 10 crisis intervention specialists, eight police officers, and other staff — as well as vehicles and other equipment.
While other mental health efforts help divert unnecessary arrests and jailing, the co-responder approach provides real-time 911 responses, May said. Diversion First leaders have pressed to eventually make the effort available around the clock.