Efforts to reform the local response to calls involving mental health issues received a boost on Tuesday in a contract to fund a coordinator to oversee the crisis intervention team at the Missoula Police Department.

Missoula County commissioner approved the $151,000 contract on behalf of the city using matching grants from the Addictive and Mental Disorders Division at the Montana Department of Health and Human Services.

“This funding is specifically geared toward services that improve mobile crisis behavioral services so we don't send as many people to the state hospital or incarceration,” said county grants administrator Erin Kautz. “This is a new position for Missoula.”

For several months now the city has been exploring models that would remove law enforcement from calls involving crisis or mental health. Such mobile crisis teams typically include mental health professionals, emergency medical technicians and other industry professionals.

But that effort may hinge on the outcome of a grant sought by the city to fund the mobile crisis team on a trial basis for 10 months, or unless other funding sources are identified. The contract approved Tuesday by the county funds the coordinator who will work to oversee those efforts.

“It's one of the employees of the police department and it's a full-time position to make sure everyone is working together and that training is up to date,” said Kautz. “It's different than mobile crisis response. It includes training and the internal system changes that are needed to better respond to crisis mental health situations.”

Kautz said the current crisis intervention team includes around a dozen members representing law enforcement, the Missoula County Detention Center, Western Montana Mental Health and the Open Aid Alliance.

“This is part of an overall continuum of care we've been trying to add to over the years,” said Kautz. “It's exciting to see if we can make this a really comprehensive system.”

Missoula Mayor John Engen has called for changes in how law enforcement officers respond to calls involving mental health crisis, and most City Council members are backing the effort.

Missoula County commissioners also are on board in what experts view as needed steps toward systemic change.

“It's a step in the right direction,” said Missoula County Commissioner Josh Slotnick.