WASHINGTON COUNTY, Va. - Less police presence on the streets is becoming a concern for some police departments in Virginia.
We're told mental health transports are putting some departments in a bind.
Driving through neighborhoods and seeing law enforcement puts some at ease, but mental health transports in Virginia are taking some manpower from the streets. "The people who are suffering are the people who are paying our salaries, because we're having to do a mandated job though the state," says Abingdon Police Chief Tony Sullivan.
Sullivan tells us so far in 2014 they've done 31 mental health transports, from Abingdon to places like Bristol, all the way to Staunton, Virginia. "When we get one of these we essentially lose an officer for the duration until the mental health evaluation is complete and the person is released or transported," Sullivan said.
We learned right now it's local law enforcement's responsibility to pick up anyone in their jurisdiction who has been ordered an emergency commitment order or a temporary detention order.
The officers are required to stay with the person for all of the evaluation. "There is no reimbursement to the local agency for the time spent sitting in the hospital, the time in transport, nothing," says Sullivan.
Sullivan tells us in 2013, his department spent over $10,000 in mental health transports and drove over 6,000 miles.
So far this year, the department has spent more than $3,000 and has driven over 1,000 miles. In Washington County, Virginia the concerns are the same. "It's not uncommon to get sometimes two or three a night locally if it's a longer transport we always try to send two people," adds Fred Newman.
Sheriff Fred Newman tells us on average he has five deputies working at night and taking one away puts the other deputies in a bind. "We try to utilize, in some cases, court security personnel, if it's after hours. Then it won't cut back on our manpower personnel," he said.
Both Sullivan and Newman tell us they hope changes are coming.
We learned Abingdon Police Chief Tony Sullivan and other law enforcement leaders have been speaking with local lawmakers to see if any changes can be made with the law.
He tells us it's something that is gaining the attention of those lawmakers.
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