Sheriff concerned over Dix closing

July 22, 2008 9:35:01 PM PDT
Fewer Wake County Deputies could be out patrolling the streets once Dorothea Dix Mental Hospital closes in Raleigh.Officials will have to take patients to the state's new hospital another county away, in Butner. The Wake County Sheriff is concerned about the strain on his resources.

Currently when someone is involuntarily committed, the closest police agency usually picks them up and brings them to Dorothea Dix.

When Dix closes, only the county sheriff's office will be able to take patients across county lines.

Officers do not know when crime is going to occur and they don't know when they'll be called to pick up someone who has to be committed to a mental health hospital. Both can happen at the same time.

"What concerns me is the manpower I'm losing in the field," Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison said.

Harrison says his officers take about 1,200 people a year to Dorothea Dix and other state facilities as agents for the court.

He expects the number to double when Dix closes, since local police departments can't cross county lines.

"On a given night we can have 20 officers out in the field or 15 officers out in the field and with the complaints that we have, the call volume that we have if you take 5 away from 15 that leaves 10 officers covering Wake County and that's when it gets scary," Harrison said.

This week patients from Umstead are moving into the new hospital in Butner. Once staff get used to working there, patients from Dix will start moving in.

"The initial plan is take keep several beds, a number of beds open here at Dix, specifically for Wake county but eventually that will likely end," DHHS spokesperson Tom Lawrence said.

Before it ends Harrison wants the state to consider creating a holding place for patients, so officers could make one daily trip, perhaps using vans similar to what inmates ride in now.

Or consider letting off-duty officers or contractors take them. Deputies are also responsible for taking patients home.

"It's going to be a nightmare but we're willing to work with everybody," Harrison said.

Each trip with a mental health patient outside the county can take four hours or longer with drive time and paperwork, which is a third of a deputy's shift.


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