People with mental illness rarely belong in our public safety systems. We rarely see good results, and sometimes the outcomes are tragic. It doesn’t have to be this way; we have the tools to improve public safety, help people toward recovery, and save money in the process.

For all these reasons, the National Association of Counties, Council of State Governments and American Psychiatric Association came together in the spring of 2015 to launch the Stepping Up Initiative. You can read more at:

As of this writing, more than 300 counties in 41 states, representing more than a third of the total U.S. population, have adopted a Stepping Up resolution. That’s the first step. Your next step is to convene a group of stakeholders from the public safety and health care communities to look at your current services and linkages, identify gaps, and develop a plan to address those gaps.

There’s always concern about plans gathering dust while the problem grows worse. We’re in uncertain and challenging times, in both Salem and D.C., but I take hope from the fact that both parties have identified this issue as a priority. Senators Al Franken and John Cornyn were among the speakers at a national Stepping Up summit. They were both on the same page: the current approach is wasting resources, it isn’t helping people get better, and it isn’t making our communities safer.

In Oregon, we have the driver of the aid and assist population—people whose attorneys believe they’re not competent to stand trial, so they file for a mental health evaluation—something that’s overwhelming the state hospital and further clogging our already overburdened courts.

During my year as AOC president, I want to encourage a greater focus on Stepping Up in our state. As of this writing, eleven Oregon counties have signed on; it would be great to see Oregon become the first state to reach 100 percent participation in this effort.

AOC staff and I are working with NACO staff to look for ways to support our counties in moving this important work forward, including the possibility of a statewide Stepping Up summit, something that’s already happened in one state and is in the works for others. We’d like to hear your thoughts about how we can move forward together.

Contributed by: Bill Hall | AOC President, Lincoln County Commissioner