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Midwest City police work to tackle mental illness, substance abuse

The city of Midwest City and the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services are partnering on a mental health and substance abuse program that they hope will help keep people from returning to jail or the criminal justice system as a whole.
by Jaclyn Cosgrove Modified: November 17, 2013 at 10:00 am •  Published: November 17, 2013

Police Chief Brandon Clabes remembers the repeat offenders.

The woman who can't afford alcohol, so she gets drunk on mouthwash.

The homeless man who steals so he can spend the winter months in jail.

A countless number of cases with countless numbers of people suffering.

“I see people in our jail 25 times a year, same people, with the same issues,” Clabes said.

The recurring theme in many of their cases is that the people either suffer from an untreated mental health issue or a substance abuse problem.

Midwest City officials have decided it's time to address a problem that only continues to grow.

The Midwest City jail, the largest city jail in Oklahoma, will soon begin a pilot program that will treat jail offenders for substance abuse and mental health issues.

Programs on a city level are uncommon

The program is similar to drug courts and mental health courts that can be found at many of Oklahoma's county jails. It's unusual to find these types of programs, though, on a city level. It will be able to handle 25 people at a time. The program will cycle people in and out.

Clabes said this is an example of community-based policing that the department is increasing in hopes of better serving its community.

“We tell everybody that's why we get into law enforcement is to help individuals, but do we really do it?” he said. “I think I see more compassionate police officers now, police officers who are more understanding, police officers that know what mental health issues and substance abuse does to people's lives ... We all know somebody in our family who has suffered from mental health issues or substance abuse.”

The majority of people who end up at the Midwest City jail are suffering, on varying levels, from mental health issues or substance abuse issues, and in some cases, both.

Statewide, Oklahoma has some of the highest rates of mental illness and substance abuse in the nation. Suicide is the leading cause of intentional deaths in Oklahoma, outnumbering homicides by more than two-to-one, according to the state Health Department.

Additionally, the rate of crimes related to alcohol use has decreased in Oklahoma since 2005, but Oklahoma has consistently higher rates than the national average, according to state data and the FBI's Uniform Crime Report. Crimes related to alcohol use include aggravated assaults, sexual assaults and robberies.

These are the types of crimes that leaders hope to decrease.

And that's the reason Dee Collins voted “yes” in support of the program at this month's Midwest City council meeting.

The councilman said he remembered what it was like to feel helpless in arresting someone who wasn't well.

Repeat offenders

During his 30-plus years at Midwest City Police Department, Collins saw people arrested who suffered from substance abuse and mental health issues. They were usually not connected with services that could help them.

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by Jaclyn Cosgrove
Medical and Health Reporter
Jaclyn Cosgrove writes about health, public policy and medicine in Oklahoma, among other topics. She is an Oklahoma State University graduate. Jaclyn grew up in the southeast region of the state and enjoys writing about rural Oklahoma. She is...
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