City councilors eye mental health task force

ALBUQURQUE (KRQE) – The feds ripped Albuquerque Police apart. Lawmakers across the state took notice and now are demanding changes in one specific area.

They aren’t pointing the finger at APD this time. They say the state is dealing with a mental health crisis and they’re going all-in to make big changes.

The word crisis is defined as a crucial or decisive point, and an unstable condition.

That’s exactly how government leaders sum up New Mexico’s mental health woes, especially in light of recent police incidents involving the mentally ill.

“We don’t need a big report or something like that, we just need to move forward with some action,” City Councilor Isaac Benton said.

City Councilor Brad Winter said, “We need to look at what we’re doing that we’re doing well, what we’re not doing and what we need to do and how were going to fund this.”

To get the job done, Winter and Benton want to create a task force to solve a laundry list of problems when it comes to the mentally ill.

The group would be made up of leaders and agencies from the city all the way up to the state.

“We need to fund mental health, behavioral health services to the degree that reflects the will of our community,” Albuquerque Sen. Bill O’Neill said.

Funding is slated to be one of the biggest challenges.

The mental health crisis hit a boiling point after the controversial police shooting of James Boyd in the Albuquerque foothills back in March. Critics say APD mishandled Boyd, who was mentally ill.

Police say many times officers are the first to respond and react.

Deputy Chief Eric Garcia says the task force and their work will open more doors for officers.

“There is going to be other options, other ways we can deal with this issue and get people the help they need,” he said.

If an arrest is made, it means that person is off to the Metropolitan Detention Center, the largest mental health provider in the state.

“They cannot access the behavioral health services outside the jail walls,” Bernalillo County Commissioner Maggie Hart Stebbins said. “There just aren’t enough places for them to go.”

It’s estimated half of MDC’s population struggles with some kind of mental illness.

The idea is to come up with long-term solutions. Councilor Benton says this is something that’s been tried before, although this time he says the political commitment and public commitment is there.

Benton and Winter’s ideas will be shared at the City Council meeting on May 19.

They’re also looking at funding a position for at least one year to get some help coordinating their efforts.

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