Crisis training works

(First published in the August 1, 2019 issue of City Pages)

A new police team for mental health situations is having dramatic results


From left: Wausau Police Officer David Bertram, Sheriff’s Deputy Megan Slowinski, and North Central Health Care crisis workers Stacy Rozelle and Chuck Kerstell form the Crisis Assessment Response Team.

After about 18 months since it began, the Marathon County Crisis Assessment Response Team, or CART, is markedly reducing the number of people being hospitalized as a result of police calls related to mental health issues.

According to CART team member and Wausau Police Officer David Bertram, prior to 2015, about half of all such law enforcement contacts led to the individual being hospitalized. That figure has steadily dropped as more police underwent crisis intervention training.

The difference was even more stark when CART officially started in 2018, as a team specifically designated for police calls involving mental health in Wausau and areas in the sheriff’s department jurisdiction, such as surrounding towns and Rib Mountain. Now, only 15% of such calls result in hospitalization, Bertram says.

That also means fewer people are being thrown in jail for behavior related to a mental health crisis, which often happened before the awareness building started in 2015 among law enforcement.

CART was a culmination of that awareness, formed in 2018 as a team of law enforcement officers and mental health crisis workers trained to de-escalate tense situations. The idea is that their intervention would prevent a cycle that previously led to jail time for individuals with mental health issues. CART members connect people to needed services and calm potentially volatile situations. Bertram says individuals often don’t even realize they’re working with a law enforcement officer right away.

“It’s been a great experience,” Bertram says. “Most of the time they say, ‘Oh, I’ve heard of you.’ I can’t think of a time someone wouldn’t talk to us. They’re usually happy to see us.”

Chuck Kerstell, an NCHC crisis professional on CART, says the program has been effective and he wants to see it expanded into other municipalities. The Everest Metro area, says Michael Loy, CEO of NCHC. Expanding the team to cover more hours of the day would also help reach more people in need, Bertram says.