How Fairfax County will deploy tablets to help with behavioral health response plan

August 1, 2023


By Matthew Torres

FAIRFAX, Va. — Officials in Fairfax County are planning to start a new pilot program that would equip patrol officers with tablets during behavioral health calls.

The ‘Telehealth Pilot’ is expected to start at two police stations in Reston and McLean before the end of the year, according to Lt. Joanna Culkin of the Fairfax County Police Crisis Intervention Team.

The current plan is to test out four tablets.

In case police respond to a call that involves an individual needing behavioral health assistance, the officer can use the tablet to call an expert with the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Service Board (CSB).

“They can link them through the tablet and have that assessment,” Culkin told WUSA9. “We’re trying to expand that reach in the community.”

“One of the great things about it is that it’s not very resource intense,” Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay added. 

The latest plan is part of the Co-Responder Teams, a program that pairs up a behavioral health expert with an officer trained in crisis intervention on mental health calls. The teams are one section that make up the Fairfax Behavior Health Crisis Response System, which also includes 911, mobile crisis units, and the regional crisis call center (988).

The Co-Responder program currently has three teams. Two of the teams work seven days a week from 12 p.m. to midnight while the third is only operating three days a week between 2 p.m. and 11 p.m.

In a presentation to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, CSB said the plan is to launch a fourth team in a few months.

“Once we get our full teams up and running, we will have coverage across the county,” added Culkin. “Already they are responding all over the county, but it will be easier to get that coverage across the county.”

Since the pilot program started in 2021, there were close to 1300 responses. The goal is to “increase timely on-scene assessment and de-escalation of behavioral health crises, increase linkages to behavioral health services and supports, and decrease criminal justice involvement and arrests.”

New data as of June 30 showed over 50% of calls were resolved in the field, approximately 30% of responses resulted in a diversion from a potential arrest and/or hospitalization, 26% resulted in a referral to a higher level of care, and 17% resulted in an Emergency Custody Order and/or Temporary Detention Order.

The program is also working to create a new follow up system where a clinician and someone with lived experience connects with the person need helping to assure proper services are available.

However, as addressing mental health calls improves in the county, there is the hurdle of staffing shortages. There is still a deficit of 200 police officers in Fairfax County. Supervisor Pat Herrity said he would like to see every patrol officer complete crisis intervention training. By the end of the year, 42% should be trained, per FCPD.

In addition, there are concerns from police and county leaders about the limited number of beds in crisis receiving centers.

“We’re really having challenges now as to where to put people in the facilities,” Herrity said. “I think we got an early start on this, and I think mental health is the issue of the decade. Once we solve the facility piece, we’re a long way down the road.”