WC sheriffs practicing calming techniques to help mentally ill population

530 transported to mental help in 2021; currently averaging two calls per day

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. – The Warren County Sheriff’s Office says that emergency medical dispatch transports have increased in the last few years with the rising homeless population in the area.

The Warren County Sheriff’s office is working hard to transform how they serve mentally ill people in the community.

Sheriff Brett Hightower says that historically, deputies have dealt with mentally ill people as would any other call of illegal activity which can lead to unnecessary violence.

“For anybody who’s gone through it, it can be a very tiring process,” Hightower described responding to emergency medical dispatch calls. “You know, the tip of the spear is the responding Deputy. How they react to that person is extremely valuable.”

Through Crisis Prevention Institute Training, learning de-escalation techniques and learning with LifeSkills here in Bowling Green, one-third of Hightower’s deputies are trained to deal with emergency crisis situations.

LifeSkills Director of Community Engagement Melanie Watts said, “You know, we want to treat everyone like you want to be treated. And certainly if that’s our family member in the back of that police car, we want them to be treated very well.”

Last year, WCSO deputies transported 530 people to Western State Hospital after licensed LifeSkills clinicians certified were dangerous to themselves and others.

Hightower says that the de-escalation training has worked in front of his own eyes. However, the sheriff’s office averages transporting two people a day to Western State Hospital… somewhere around 60 percent of those people repeatedly .

“For thirty years sheriffs have been asking for assistance in additional funding for these issues,” said Hightower. “It’s falling on deaf ears. As our population continues to grow, I would venture to say these issues will grow as well.”

Watts said, “My dream would be that the state starts putting money into the communities so the communities can deal with those issues directly and not have to take someone to Western State [Hospital] to stabilize them.”

While Watts and Hightower agree that the long term goal is to get state funding and help in other areas, for now, Hightower’s game plan is to get 100 percent of his deputies trained to help the people fighting these internal battles, hopefully planting the seeds that lead to change.