Use of Court-Ordered Alternatives to Law Enforcement for Transporting People during Mental Health Emergencies

Developments in Mental Health Law, March 2016 | Go to article overview

Use of Court-Ordered Alternatives to Law Enforcement for Transporting People during Mental Health Emergencies


Providing safe transportation in the least restrictive manner for individuals under an emergency custody order ("ECO") or temporary detention order ("TDO") is a continuing challenge in Virginia. Historically, this responsibility has fallen to law-enforcement, although neither police departments nor sheriffs' departments receive funding specifically for providing this transportation. For policy and safety reasons, law enforcement officers generally must use restraints and a police vehicle to transport individuals experiencing a mental health crisis, which can make people feel stigmatized, traumatized, and criminalized. In 2009, legislation was passed that gave magistrates the ability to issue an Alternative Transportation Order ("ATO") that designates someone other than law enforcement, such as a family member, friend, or agency to transport individuals under an ECO or a TDO provided that the alternative transportation provider is willing and able to do this in a safe manner (Va. Code [section][section] 16.1-340, 340.2, 37.2-808, 810).

The Office of Executive Secretary of the Supreme Court of Virginia (SCV) has collected data on issued ATOs since the ATO legislation was enacted on July 1, 2009. In Vol. 30, Issue 1 of Developments in Mental Health Law, Jane Hickey and Amy Askew wrote about the early use of ATOs, from fiscal year (FY)10-FY11 (1). This issue's ILPPP Data Corner presents a summary of available ATO data and contextual information that sheds light on the findings.

Data Source

ATO data from FY10-FY16 were obtained from the SCV's eMagistrate System. The eMagistrate System is used by magistrates in all thirty-two judicial districts to issue arrest processes, bail processes, and other orders including ECOs, TDO, and ATOs. Each time an ATO is issued, it is entered into the eMagistrate System. The eMagistrate System stores information about the date of issuance, whether the ATO was issued for ECO or TDO transport, whether the individual being transported was an adult or a minor, and the type of transportation provider used.

Results

Shortly after ATO legislation was enacted, the number of ATOs issued quarterly was rising (Figure 1). This growth gradually leveled off, however, and the number of ATOs issued decreased annually from FY10-FY11 to FY15. Magistrates issued 134 ATOs in FY10 and 108 ATOs in FY15. The volume of ATOs issued began to rise considerably in November 2015 (Figure 2). Note that although many more ATOs were issued, ATOs were issued for only about 2.5% of the total TDOs issued from November 2015-January 2016. Over half of the ATOs issued for TDOs in this time period were issued in localities served by Mt. Rogers Community Services Board (CSB). This elevated concentration of issued ATOs is due to a pilot project that is described later in this article.

Across FY10-FY15, the most common alternative transportation provider was medical transport (Table 1). Beginning in November 2015, the most common alternative transportation provider was a certified driver (2). Reasons for these shifts are explained below. Table 2 displays the number of ATOs issued for adults under ECOs and TDOs (denoted "ECO" and "TDO") and minors under ECOs and TDOs (denoted "ECOJ" and "TDOJ") from FY10-FY16. (3) Very few ATOs were issued for minors. Additionally, few ATOs were issued in order to transport an individual under an ECO, with about 95.4% of ATOs in FY16 issued for an individual under a TDO (Table 2).

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Policy and Practice Changes Influencing the Use of ATOs

In 2008, the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police and the Virginia Sheriffs' Association conducted a series of studies of Police Departments and Sheriffs' Departments that were designed to determine which agencies provide transportation and to quantify the staffing required by Sheriffs' Departments to provide civil commitment related services. (4) These studies were conducted prior to enactment of ATO legislation. …

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