Using Public Safety Funds to Support Community Members’ Behavioral Health Needs

Law enforcement officers are often the first responders when a person is experiencing a behavioral health crisis. In many cases, individuals who repeatedly call 911 or cycle through jail become ‘familiar faces’ to law enforcement with poor outcomes. Three law enforcement officials joined NACo on October 12 to discuss how they use public safety funds to support the behavioral health needs of community members. Each of the officials featured on this webinar are funding behavioral health roles and services as integral components of their public safety departments.

  • Sheriff Elias Diggins of the City and County of Denver, Colo. reallocated an executive level role to create a Chief of Mental Health Services position and hired a clinical psychologist, Dr. Nikki Johnson. Dr. Johnson oversees all aspects of mental health in the department and jail, from entry to exit. She has led the implementation of a crisis response team, restoration and transition unit, mental health step-down unit, medication-assisted treatment unit and harm reduction release program through which individuals leaving custody receive a kit with naloxone and fentanyl test strips. Since its inception, the jail has distributed more than 900 kits to individuals leaving custody.
  • Sheriff Jerry Clayton of Washtenaw County, Mich. used funds allocated to his office from an eight-year county millage for mental health and public safety improvements to launch a LEADD (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion + Deflection) program. LEADD provides officers the option to divert people charged with low-level offenses into intensive case management and connection to services. While LEADD programs are typically operated out of other departments, Sheriff Clayton integrated jail and mental health data and found that individuals in his county jail with a behavioral health condition had double the average length of stay and rate of recidivism. In response to this disparity and a lack of alternatives, he invested in LEADD to better “support community safety through supporting community wellness, one individual at a time.”
  • Chief Mike Ward (Ret.) of Alexandria, Ky. created a social worker position within his police department to serve as a secondary responder. Sixty-seven percent of calls for service in Alexandria were non-criminal and many were re-occurring calls, requiring the skillset and expertise of a social worker rather than a police officer. The social worker responds to non-criminal calls with an officer or at the police department to connect individuals to services. This position represents about half the cost of hiring, training and equipping a new sworn officer, and the model has now been emulated across the commonwealth of Kentucky.

The full recording of the discussion can be accessed here. Join the conversation on the Familiar Faces Initiative Community Message Board. Contact Nina Ward, Senior Program Manager for Behavioral Health and Justice at with any additional questions.