The Chelan County Sheriff's Office is moving to distinguish their deputies from the Behavioral Health Unit team.  

Behavioral Health has been run through the Sheriff's Office since last summer.  

Sheriff Mike Morrison thinks it's important for the Unit to have a unique identity when reaching out to people in crisis or in need. 

"At least that way when they arrive on scene, they know that they are a separate entity from us," said Morrison. "And that might help them being able to break down barriers in dealing with people in crisis."  

The Behavioral Health Unit was started in September of 2021 to address the increasing need for mental health intervention services in the community. 

During the 2021 legislative session, Washington lawmakers passed a law governing when and how law enforcement can use force. The new law emphasizes de-escalation when responding to people who are not committing crimes but are having a mental health crisis. 

The Behavioral Health Unit started with one responder, Ana Johnson, a licensed mental health counselor and a previous designated crisis responder. The unit has since grown in size to four staff members now, with of those members joining the board last August. 

Morrison has been on the job since the first of the year, after being elected in November. One of his talking points while campaigning was that it was irresponsible to have Behavioral Health members riding in patrol cars because Behavioral Health has a separate purpose in assisting people in crisis. 

He says the Unit already now has unique apparel and is in the process to getting its own vehicles. 

"We have gone over and transitioned to patrol vests that are now different colors," Morrison said. "They've gone to gray, that's now assigned to BHU. And the continuation of that effort to get separation between the two, so we see that they are two separate entities, was to get them their own vehicle." 

Behavioral Health specialists' originally strictly rode in Sheriff’s Office patrol cars, but have since acquired one designated vehicle, a Ford Escape. 

Morrison says the sheriff’s office has secured a $35,000 grant to purchase a second vehicle. 

Chelan County commissioners will have to approve any vehicle purchase. Morrison noted the grant money would expire in June. 

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