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Fewer people being arrested in mental health calls, says fire department


The number of people arrested following interactions with the Las Cruces mental health response team fell drastically in the second half of 2023 as police officers relied more and more on the service, according to information presented during a meeting on May 13 about Project LIGHT.  

Project LIGHT, a fire department team that is sent out to emergency mental health crises, saw just 5 percent of interactions end with the person being arrested. That’s down from a reported 20 percent, or one in five, in its first six months of operation. 

That’s because relying on Project LIGHT has become a regular tool for Las Cruces police, according to the LIGHT’s overseer, Battalion Chief Matthew Hiles. 

“It allows (police) to get back to responding and patrolling and doing what they are meant to do,” Hiles said.   

The statistics were presented as part of May 13 update during which the Las Cruces Fire Department presented data over LIGHT’s first full year in existence. The team, which includes social workers and paramedics, is unique among emergency response efforts in New Mexico. 

Project LIGHT works alongside a cadre of first responders. When someone calls 911 with a crisis, it’s up to the 911 dispatcher to call on Project LIGHT or the police officer responsible for securing the scene to request Project LIGHT’s presence. 

“I think it’s a true success. I think what y’all are doing is great,” said Mayor Eric Enriquez. 

Hiles said LIGHT responded to 455 calls between April 2023 and April 2024. Roughly 40 percent of those calls ended with transportation to a mental health provider, and about 25 percent ended with LIGHT being able to treat the person in the moment. 

“To show up to somebody’s crisis and be able to help them right then and there, get them what they need, or help them feel better and de-escalate is very huge,” Hiles said. 

Still, LIGHT was asked to respond to more calls than it could, something officials said they hope to address in the next year.

LCFD Chief Jason Smith said plans to remodel an old fire station to house LIGHT were about 50 percent complete. He also said he’d like to hire a coordinator to lead the team and assist in taking calls. 

Project LIGHT, mental health, crisis team