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Law enforcement officials discuss need for more mental health services

By Ty O'Neil

U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto was in Reno Thursday to meet with the region’s law enforcement leaders to discuss her efforts to support Nevada’s law enforcement agencies. 

The senator said she has long held an interest in supporting police after serving as Nevada’s Attorney General from 2007-2015.

Cortez Masto was promoting an omnibus bill passed through Congress to fund the Byrne JAG grant program. The program helps state, local and tribal agencies with programs for crime prevention, law enforcement, corrections and mental and behavioral health. 

Sen. Cortez Masto was joined by Washoe County Sheriff Darin Balaam, Reno Police Chief Jason Soto and Sparks Deputy Chief Clinte Bellamy.

The discussion covered a range of topics and local programs – such as the recent purchase of new radios by the Sparks Police Department funded as a result of her efforts. 

Deputy Chief Bellamy said modernizing Spark Police’s radio system was vital.  The department’s old system had dead spots making it difficult for officers to communicate with one another and with other regional law enforcement and first responders.  

However, much of the conversation centered around mental health for not only law enforcement personnel, but also people who are incarcerated and the general population.  

Sheriff Balaam said 60% of inmates at the county’s jail have or have had mental health issues. 

“I’d rather you come through my front doors and ask for help than come through my side doors with handcuffs on,” he said. “If you need help, before it’s too late and you may find yourself in trouble, ask these agencies, ask the Sheriff’s Office and we’ll get the help for you.”

“This detention facility shouldn’t be a state hospital,” Balaam said.

Cortez Masto said cuts to behavioral health services that took place in the ‘90s are being felt now and were magnified by the pandemic. 

She also promoted the 988 phone number for people experiencing mental health crises, coming in July, which can be used in instances where a police response isn’t needed but a behavioral health response is.  

Balaam said the goal is to keep people out of jail, get people that need help connected with the appropriate services, and to keep them out of jail. 

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