DOJ investigating Oklahoma mental health services and OKC police response

OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. — The U.S. Department of Justice announced an investigation in the State of Oklahoma, Oklahoma city and the Oklahoma City Police Department Thursday.

A news release says the investigation will look at whether Oklahoma fails to provide community-based mental health services to people in Oklahoma County, which authorities say leads to unnecessary admissions to psychiatric facilities and police contact. The DOJ also will examine Oklahoma City’s systems for responding to people experiencing behavioral health crises, including through the 911 call center and the police department.

“Community-based mental health services, which are proven effective in transforming people’s lives, are critical to preventing a cycle of unnecessary institutionalization and avoidable contacts with law enforcement,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said in the release. “The Civil Rights Division is committed to ensuring appropriate responses to behavioral health crises and protecting the civil rights of people with mental health disabilities.”

The DOJ informed several Oklahoma and Oklahoma City officials of the investigation before Thursday’s announcement. Those informed include the offices of Gov. Kevin Stitt, Attorney General John O’Connor, the commissioner of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, Mayor David Holt, the city manager and Police Chief Wade Gourley.

As part of this investigation, department officials will reach out to community groups and members of the public to learn about their experiences with mental health services in Oklahoma County and Oklahoma City and OKCPD’s response to mental health crises.

“We intend to cooperate with the USDOJ and look forward to working with them toward the goal of providing the safest and most effective ways of responding to these types of calls,” Oklahoma City Police Chief Gourley said in a statement.

The investigation is being conducted pursuant to Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits disability discrimination by Oklahoma and local governments. The investigation also is being conducted pursuant to the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which prohibits state and local governments from engaging in a pattern or practice of conduct by law enforcement officers that deprives individuals of rights protected by the Constitution or federal law.

The Special Litigation Section of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, in Washington, D.C., will conduct this investigation.