Ellensburg Police: Mental health calls are up 230% since 2013

Ellensburg Police Department
Image credit: Ellensburg Police Department, Facebook

ELLENSBURG, Wash. — An overlooked aspect of local law enforcement is the need for mental health services. While recent laws in Washington state have looked to address mental health and its role in policing, agencies like the Ellensburg Police Department are tasked with managing mental health crises on a daily basis despite a lack of resources.

According to Ellensburg police officials, this goes hand in hand with a rapid increase in opioid drug addiction issues and drug-related deaths in Kittitas County. EPD officers stated in a social media post that their department is contacted for reports of mental health episodes multiple times per day—many of which are related to drug addiction.

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In 2013, Ellensburg Police received 128 calls involving mental health issues within their jurisdiction. By 2017, that number nearly doubled to 245.

It spiked once more by the end of 2020 when the number of mental health calls escalated to 423 in a single calendar year. That’s an increase of 230% since 2013, causing concern that it will only get worse by 2025 and beyond.

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While addressing mental health crises is a priority of the Ellensburg Police Department, there is only so much they can do without the resources or funding to provide the care that these individuals desperately need. The second paragraph of the EPD post reads as follows:

The large increase in calls is only half the story. The other half, the most concerning half, is the lack of resources available for those in need of treatment. Is it any wonder that we have such increases when the access to services is so limited and need so great? The problem has grown so large that our ability to impact it with current resources is impossible.

READ: Four deaths, 20 overdoses attributed to fentanyl in Ellensburg in 2021

Despite being ill-equipped to address this issue to the extent required, community partners are helping to pitch in and give Kittitas County residents the resources they need. EPD named the community health network, Kittitas County Corrections Center, and Kittitas Valley Hospital as helpful contributors; in addition to other public safety organizations and first responders.

Like always, we try everything possible to efficiently utilize our existing resources, but it is currently not enough, and this problem continues to grow. As the statistics show, we are losing this battle. Most in the law enforcement, emergency medical services and public health support the need for additional funding because it is necessary. I also recognize that local governments will be paying for the increases in services and it will be up to our elected leaders to determine where this money will come from.

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Next up, EPD officials will bring this issue to the Kittitas County Commissioners for further evaluation. Whether the city decides to allocate funds from another source or implement a community tax to fund mental health issues is up for determination.

However, communities like Benton and Franklin counties have discussed the issue at length—opting to impose low-cost taxes that will add up to help fund mental health services in the Tri-Cities community.

Regardless of how it’s addressed, mental health services and drug addiction resources are a necessity to improve public safety in the eyes of Ellensburg’s primary law enforcement agency.

READ: Benton County commissioners vote to pass a tax ordinance for mental health services