MORRISVILLE, N.C. (WNCN) – Morrisville police honored three officers for their role in saving a man’s life earlier this fall.
In front of city council Tuesday night, Morrisville Interim Police Chief Pete Acosta presented lifesaving awards to Senior Officer Lori Strickland, Officer Madison Cook, and Officer Beth Wyatt.
The three officers were involved in a September call at an apartment complex off Chapel Hill Road, where Acosta said a man, in the midst of a mental health crisis, had severely injured himself.
He said the officers worked quickly to locate the man and render first aid while paramedics rushed to the scene. The man survived, Acosta said, because of his officers’ lifesaving efforts.
“The officers used their instincts to react to help save this man,” he said.
The three officers received a standing ovation from the audience at city council Tuesday evening with loved ones on hand to witness the awards.
“I can say I have never saved a life. These ladies did and I couldn’t be more proud of them,” Acosta said.
Mental health calls on the rise
The September call was one of the numerous calls Morrisville police have responded to in 2021 where a citizen was in mental distress.
Numbers obtained from the department show while officers responded to 58 crisis intervention calls in 2020, officers have already responded to 105 to date in 2021.
Acosta said the numbers have been steadily increasing for longer than that, too.
“Our crisis intervention crisis calls have (gone) up over the last three years by hundreds,” he said.
Morrisville police are not alone.
An October peer-reviewed journal article about policing during the COVID-19 pandemic CBS 17 reviewed Wednesday showed calls involving mental health crises have increased by more than a fifth over expected numbers. According to the study, the trend began in August 2020 – a few months into the pandemic.
Brandon McGaha, who focuses on North Carolina for the Southern States Police Benevolent Association, said the trend spans the last three to four years.
He sees it as a primary concern facing law enforcement officers in 2021.
“It wouldn’t be too high to say (it is) 10 percent of daily call volume for a police department,” McGaha said. “It’s been on the increase for a while. And it’s been a real problem.”
Handling the call volume
While Morrisville police and other agencies go through crisis intervention training, the calls add up.
Numerous agencies across the country have explored alternative approaches to handling cases involving mental health crises.
CBS 17 reported earlier in 2021 that Raleigh police have employed a new program called “ACORNS,” which, among other things, involves social workers responding alongside officers to certain calls. The program is aimed at assisting citizens in distress and reducing crime.
Raleigh Police told CBS17 Wednesday, the agency at this point does not have specific data indicating what impact the program has had to date.
McGaha said the SSPBA is in favor of programs like Raleigh’s.
Officers will respond
Despite the added call volume for cases involving mental health concerns, Acosta said his officers will continue to answer the call…just as they did in September when they saved a life.
“It really says a lot about who they are, their determination, fortitude, to do the right thing,” he said.