City leaders approve $3.5M contract allowing mental health experts to ride along with CMPD

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department will soon have mental health experts respond to calls with them to ease tense situations.

City council members approved spending $3.5 million for a five-year contract with mental health counselors at a meeting Monday evening.

Channel 9's Mark Barber learned the idea stemmed from a police foundation report that analyzed CMPD's response to the fallout from the Keith Scott shooting in 2016.

Charlotte erupted after Scott was shot and killed by police. City leaders believe having mental health clinicians first on scene could help prevent situations like that before they escalate.

Scott's family said he suffered from a traumatic brain injury, and many of the people officers encounter every day deal with mental health issues.

Last April, the city of Charlotte found police acted negligently when they shot and killed Spencer Mims, a mentally ill man.

The case cost Charlotte taxpayers more than $280,000.

[RELATED: Family suing city of Charlotte for wrongful death questions how police handle mental health calls]

Channel 9 first reported that CMPD was considering riding along with mental health specialists last summer after police Chief Kerr Putney said the budget would allow six of the clinicians to work with the force.

The clinicians will be on the ground with officers, while also following up on cases, offering referrals, and support.

"We know, our calls for service, who we have out there who are struggling with crisis," CMPD Chief Kerr Putney said. "With clinicians who have expertise, we can proactively keep people on their meds, even sometimes when their family can't."

Putney said in addition to this potential contract, the department has almost 700 officers go through crisis intervention training, which is about 40 percent of the department. The national average is 25 percent.

Until the contract goes through, CMPD has not said how this would work, including what is being done to prepare clinicians for potentially violent situations.

Channel 9's Elsa Gillis looked into similar programs around the country and found a department in Pueblo, Colorado has their clinicians complete The Police Academy.

Mental health activist Fonda Bryant said this initiative is significant, especially having someone to followup on people in crisis.

"It could save a life," Bryant said. "Trust is very important and also consistency, that's very comforting to families. It's like a great partnership between two superheroes."

The city has now decided it wants to work with a company called Matrix Mental Health Alliance and is expected to approve the contract at Monday's meeting.

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