News Article Details

Benton sheriff candidates call proposed mental health unit a good start

Tri-City Herald - 4/2/2017

April 02--The three candidates to succeed retired Benton County Sheriff Steve Keane all agree that the county needs to improve services to inmates who are mentally ill.

Benton County has invested about $400,000 to develop plans for a 24-bed mental health unit, which would cost about $5 million to build. If approved, overseeing its construction will fall to the person who succeeds Keane.

Interim Sheriff Jerry Hatcher, Sheriff's Detective Sgt. Bob Brockman and Kennewick Police Sgt. Ken Lattin have applied for the job.

Hatcher, an architect of the mental health unit plan, is impatient to break ground. "Tomorrow would be great for me," he said.

Lattin and Brockman also have strong views on the subject and experiences at the intersection of mental health and law enforcement.

Lattin said a mental health unit would be a good start, but he predicts law enforcement agencies such as his own will quickly swamp the system with people.

When Kennewick arrests someone in an apparent mental health crisis, it first takes them to a hospital to be medically cleared by a doctor and a mental health professional.

If the professionals agree the individual should be held for evaluation, the officer and prisoner/patient wait for a secured bed at an institution such as Eastern State Hospital in Medical Lake.

That can take 10 to 12 hours, Lattin said. And if the prisoner becomes disruptive and assaults the officer or hospital staff, they're taken immediately to jail.

"Twenty four beds won't be enough. Everyone is going to want to tap into those beds," he predicted.

Brockman couldn't be reached for an interview for this story. However, he has said that he decided to seek appointment to the sheriff's post to improve mental health care for inmates.

He favors a separate, secure facility operated in partnership with a health care organization to provide treatment.

"The jail isn't set up to properly house them, and the sheriff's office shouldn't be treating mental illness," he told the Herald in March.

The Benton County commissioners will evaluate the three candidates beginning April 6 and are expected to appoint a new sheriff by April 11. Whoever is chosen will have to run for election this fall to serve out the balance of Keane's term, which expires in 2018. The annual salary is $123,000.

Wendy Culverwell: 509-582-1514, @WendyCulverwell

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(c)2017 Tri-City Herald (Kennewick, Wash.)

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