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Provo • Police Chief John King on Tuesday called for the Utah Legislature to accept federal funds to extend health insurance for thousands more state residents to prevent future crime, as well as save money.
King made his plea along with a representative of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, an anti-crime organization that supports Gov. Gary Herbert's Healthy Utah expansion plan, which includes provisions for treatment of mental health issues.
"I'm not here as an expert on health care policy," King said at a news conference.
But as a law enforcement officer, the chief who stressed that he and Fight Crime: Invest in Kids are not equating mental illness with criminality said he knows the toll that mental illness, behavior disorders and substance abuse can take.
"It's a smart move," King said of expanding coverage.
Nearly 5,000 police chiefs, sheriffs, prosecutors, and violence survivors belong to the New York City-based Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, with more than 80 of the members in Utah. The group works to put research on how to reduce the risk of children becoming involved in crime when they grow up in the hands of policymakers and the public.
On Tuesday, the organization released a report "Utah Law Enforcement Leaders: Our Officers Make that Knock on the Door" that says some of the more than 1,200 deaths from car accidents, drug overdoes, suicides and homicide that occur in the state each year could be prevented by effective treatment of substance abuse and behavior disorders. (The report's title refers to the delivery of the message that a loved one isn't coming home because of some tragedy or the arrival of officers investigating a child abuse or neglect report).
State lawmakers are working to reach a compromise by the end of July to dueling Senate and House bills that would expand Medicaid, Healthy Utah and Utah Cares. Healthy Utah would cover thousands more than Utah Cares.
Brett Beckerson, senior associate of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, said the governor's plan would be an important step forward and lead to "a safer, healthier Utah overall."
According to the report, parents without insurance are three times more likely to have uninsured kids. So when more parents get covered, more of the children in the state who are currently uninsured also will get coverage, the report says.
Juergen Korbanka, executive director of Wasatch Mental Health in Provo, said treating behavioral health issues is a logical extension of preventing crime.
He cited as an example a wife and mother who began using methamphetamine to deal with an underlying bipolar disorder, became an intravenous drug user, went to jail and had nowhere to go when she got out. When she qualified for Medicaid, she was able to get treatment and reconnect with her family, he said.
Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank had not seen the Fight Crime: Invest in Kids report but supports the group's mission. "Expansion of mental health treatment in any arena helps to reduce criminal activity and recidivism," he said.
Studies cited in the Fight Crime: Invest in Kids report say that having a mental illness in addition to an alcohol or drug disorder can increase the odds of engaging in violence by 26 times and that providing proven medical treatments for troubled youths can cut future arrests by at least half.
And an analysis of three treatment programs showed an average net savings to society of $25,000 to $31,000 for each youth served. The cost to incarcerate a juvenile in Utah is $39,000 for six months.
The report says that if Utah does not act to extend health coverage, the state will have to continue to pay for the "unabated costs" that come with untreated mental health and behavior disorder and the cost of incarcerating criminals.
And, the report says that "we in law enforcement will have to continue knocking on too many doors."