Fairfax County Police (FCPD) shot and killed Jasper Aaron Lynch, 26, July 3 after he charged officers with a wooden mask and threw a champagne bottle at them. Police had responded to a 911 call from Lynch’s concerned family, reporting that he was in the midst of a mental health crisis. This was not the first visit to the house that day. In a previous call, police responded with a co-respondent, a trained mental health professional whose goal is diversion first.
Unfortunately, when police responded a second time the co-respondent was not present. In the body camera footage released a month later, Lynch is confronted by officers trying to calm the agitated young man. The incident ends with officers shooting Lynch four times, ending his life.
During the week of Lynch’s death, there were 187 total people experiencing a mental health crisis calls for service. His case, and a large number of calls in general, only highlights the challenges emergency services are facing as they develop alternative approaches to mental health cases. Fairfax County Times previously reported in 2021, that the Community Services Board (CSB) launched a co-responder program that allows for a mental health professional from the Mobile Crisis Unit to respond with an FCPD officer. The county currently has two clinicians to service the entire area. When the program has reached Phase 4 there will be 16 clinicians in the program.
The focus and mission of the CSB are to be a public provider of services and support to those in the community with developmental delay, developmental disabilities, serious emotional disturbances, mental illness, and/or substance use disorders. They aim to provide engagement, assessment, referrals, and wellness programs supported by a group of medical, therapeutic, and support staff for all of the residents of Fairfax County and the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church. Whether it is a police respondent situation or a member of the community that has come to seek help their goal is to provide that assistance every time.
“As part of our ongoing commitment to assist and divert individuals with behavioral health issues, we have created co-responder teams comprised of CIT-trained officers and CSB crisis intervention specialists,” said 2nd Lt. James Curry of the FCPD Public Affairs Bureau. “The Mobile Crisis Unit has been operating throughout our county for 30 years.”
Since the creation of the Diversion First program in 2016, the County continues to battle the rise of mental health crises’ with programs like the Fairfax-Falls Church CSB, and the Crisis Intervention Team (CIT). The CIT has currently trained 400 officers in Fairfax County. The FCPD views the CIT as a highly specialized team, much like a SWAT team, with the County viewing it “as a special skill set and ensures departments are not trying to force officers into becoming CIT officers who may not have proper experiences and skill set,” said Curry. The program goal is to provide “sufficient 24/7 coverage (typically 20-25 percent)”.
Despite all of this, the number of calls continues to increase. Fairfax County’s FY 2023 Budget has proposed an increase of $695,364 and four new positions to the program. The goal of the program is simple – offer an alternative to incarceration for those that police come in contact with during a low-level offense for people with mental illness, developmental disabilities, and co-occurring substance abuse disorders.
Curry acknowledges that the program should continue to grow.
“We look forward to expanding this team to increase their ability to respond to more calls for service,” he said. “In matters where it is not necessary for officers to take immediate action, we often make referrals to CSB for additional services, such as the Mobile Crisis Unit which are teams of clinicians who respond to persons in need of mental health services and follow-up care.”