DENVER - Denver police have seen a substantial increase in mental health-related calls over the last five years, and mental health advocates say cuts to mental health budgets are to blame.
After a series of officer-involved shootings, law enforcement sources said one common factor was mental illness.
"I heard he didn't have his medication," said Mike Orecchio, the neighbor of Evan Bynum, a man who was shot and killed by Jefferson County sheriff's deputies after they say he fired a gun outside a Littleton King Soopers last Saturday night. "I knew something like this was going to happen.
Scott Glaser with the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) in Colorado said recent cuts in mental health services have put police in the place of psychiatric care.
"It's a cause for concern," said Glaser. "If we could get them care on the front end, they are less likely to be in these types of situations."
Area police departments report anecdotal evidence of increased mental health calls, but some departments have been tracking the trend carefully.
Since 2007, the Denver Police Department has seen a steady increase in mental health-related calls.
In 2007, Denver police received 19,661 mental health-related calls. So far in 2012, Denver has had 23,524 calls, which is a nearly 20 percent increase.
Suicidal person calls were up more than 60 percent over that same time period.
Denver Police Sgt. Michael Vogler, who coordinates the agency's Crisis Intervention Team, said a portion of the increase can be attributed to more careful tracking, but the rest is due to a variety of issues.
"It's been a very stressful season. Colorado especially. We had the Aurora shooting. We've had devastating fires, the election, the economy. All these combined are having an effect," said Vogler.
Vogler said about 80 percent of Denver patrol officers have been CIT trained in how to deal with mental health issues. But he said when an officer is confronted with someone in full-blown crisis, sometimes, it's too late.
"The more education officers and the general public have, the better we can intervene with someone before they reach the crisis point," said Vogler. "Once that point has been hit, there are very, very few options available."
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