Finding Hope: Meet the Boise Police Department's Behavioral Health Response Team

Posted at 3:07 PM, Aug 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-25 10:09:43-04

BOISE, Idaho — In Boise, protesters in favor of “defunding the police” are upset after learning the City of Boise will be increasing the department’s annual budget.

In 2020, Boise Police accounted for 29% of the city's annual budget at just over $70 million. The proposed budget for 2021 is $71.2 million. This increased budget is to fund community resources and outreach programs, like the Behavioral Health Response Team or BHRT.

Penelope Hansen is a licensed clinician and mental health coordinator for BPD’s BHRT. Hansen has been with the department for five years, and she tells Idaho News 6 that both she and the department recognized pretty quickly that the team could be a lot more dynamic if members were partnered with officers.

"It would be naïve to suggest that police are not needed in these situations,” says Hansen.

Hansen says in the last year alone, she responded to 1,600 mental health-related calls. Thirty-seven resulted in an arrest and 91 in psychiatric holds. Hansen says her partner, Boise Police Officer Blake Slater, offers a safety level she wouldn’t have otherwise if working alone.

"There’s a limit to my skill. I can’t physically restrain them to keep them from harming themselves," Hansen explains, adding that Crisis Intervention also makes Boise officers very skilled in the de-escalation.

Slater, a police officer for over 25 years, tells Idaho News 6 that he volunteered for his current position about a year ago. His interest in mental and behavioral health stems from experiences he’s gone through in his own life. For him, making sure people get to a place of safety and get treatment is most important.

On an average day, Hansen and Slater are busy responding to repeat 911 callers. If a call for service comes in when they’re off duty, Hansen says, “we actually review all of those that happen on our days off or the night before, and then we make a list, and we follow up with every single one of those.”

About $700,000 of BPD’s 2021 budget will go towards hiring five “non-traditional” officer positions. Examples of those positions include but are not limited to the Behavioral Health Response Team and Refugee Liaison.